The Daily (and Nightly) Grind, Part 2

In my last post, I talked about bruxism and its effects on overall health. Now I will address the dental causes and consequences of this fairly common condition.

When you bite down, your teeth are supposed to fit together perfectly, kind of like a “lock-and-key” or the way pieces fit in a puzzle. The point is, it’s very unique to each patient and even to each tooth. A single tooth that is not in its correct position, even by a very tiny amount, can throw your bite off and trigger grinding and clenching as a way to bring the tooth back into alignment. Imagine people that have all their teeth out of alignment. Braces can give you a beautiful smile, but their actual purpose is to create a stable, functional bite and minimize or eliminate bruxism.

Bruxism often does not produce any symptoms. When discovered on routine check-ups, most patients categorically deny they clench and grind their teeth. Yet certain indicators, such as wear facets, are clearly evident. In more advanced cases, there are visible crack lines within the enamel, similar to cracks seen within fine china and ceramics. In more severe cases you find actual breaks and fractures. Loosening of the teeth and gum recession are also a common findings.

Don’t just brush it off when a dentist makes you aware of these signs. It can be a warning of other health issues. Addressed early, it can save your life, especially if you have sleep apnea and don’t know it yet.

Bruxism sometimes leads to pain in one of the jaw joints, and is frequently mistaken for an ear infection. Jaw muscles get fatigued and hurt just like any muscles that get too much of a workout. After many years, bruxism can lead to arthritic damage and even perforation of the articular disc that cushions the jaw bone at the joint.

Bruxism can be treated by wearing a protective bite guard while you sleep to reduce the wear and damage that can result from clenching and grinding. Selectively and minimally reshaping teeth can bring them back into proper alignment. Orthodontics may also be necessary.

More advanced wear and breakdown of the teeth will likely require some form of dental treatment to repair the damage. Ignoring it will only make things worse and accelerate the destruction, eventually leading to pain and eventual  tooth loss. Speak with your dentist if you notice these signs and symptoms. Bruxism can be very debilitating to your oral health and also be an indicator of more serious health problems.

Dr. Francisco J. Blanco Dr. Blanco has been practicing dentistry for over 20 years in Miami.

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