What Causes Teeth Grinding?

Bruxism Guide

What Causes Teeth Grinding?

Bruxism—the medical term for teeth grinding—is actually a very common behavior for humans.  In fact, as much as 50% of all people perform it one way or another.  Not all of these grind their teeth in their sleep, even if it is more common to do it then instead of while awake.  Not all of these people are chronic grinders either.  Estimates vary, but it would be safe to say that somewhere around 5% or so of the world’s population suffer from chronic bruxism.

The use of the word “suffer” already clues you in to the pitfalls of this seemingly innocuous activity.  Grinding your teeth regularly can actually have a lot of negative effects, especially in the long term.  But before we get to those, we should discuss what brings bruxism to be in the first place.

The Sources of Bruxism

There are a lot of possible causes of bruxism.  In most cases, it is usually not simply one of these but a combination of two or more.  Of course, each case varies.

An abnormal bite—this includes underbites, overbites, Hapsburg jaws, and all their varieties—is actually a common culprit.  Malocclusion of the teeth, their improper formation, or even their absence, can in fact lead to bruxism.

Sleep apnea is also regularly associated with this problem.  Stress and anxiety are other common factors, and are particularly common for those who perform bruxism in their sleep.  Stomach acid reflux is said to contribute to it. Some studies also indicate a high correlation between ailments such as Huntington’s and Parkinson’s and teeth grinding.

Some chemical compounds also appear to be linked to higher occurrences of bruxism.  Studies indicate that people who consume significant amounts of caffeine are more likely to perform teeth grinding, for instance.  This may well tie in to an already mentioned factor, anxiety.  Caffeine can ratchet up a person’s anxiety levels drastically, especially when not taken in moderation, so it stands to a reason that the chances of bruxism occurring are magnified with increased caffeine intake.

Oddly enough, some substances with the opposite effect can also promote teeth grinding.  Alcohol is a depressant, for example, and thus acts in direct opposition to caffeine’s stimulant effect.  Yet it can also enhance the possibility of a person performing bruxism.

Another drug that seems to enhance teeth grinding behavior is nicotine, although this may also be related to some of the jaw/mouth behaviors that go with smoking.  Then there are the antidepressant medicaments, some of which have been tapped as suspects.  SSRIs seem to promote bruxism.

Certain illicit substances are also linked to teeth grinding.  The amphetamine class of drugs appears to be a common factor, as is Ecstasy.  The combination of amphetamine (especially methamphetamine) substance abuse and bruxism can be especially damaging to the state of a person’s mouth, as the bruxism aggravates the tooth deterioration so typically associated with this type of drug abuse.

Bruxism can be a learned behavior of both the body and mind too.  Those who chew excessively while awake—the perennial gum chewers, for example—are more likely to grind their teeth at night than those who do not chew gum.  People who also like to chew on tough objects like ice cubes or the caps of their pens are more likely to do teeth grinding.

In the latter case, teeth grinding is also especially likely to take place even while awake.  This is partly due to these persons often performing chewing activities when attempting to concentrate.  Thus, when they need to concentrate and there is nothing to chew, the chewing tends to turn into grinding.

Consider the student who likes to chew on his pencil in class, for example.  If he comes across a situation where he needs to focus but happens to have no pencil to chomp on, he will very likely resort to grinding his teeth instead… often unconsciously.

Correlations and Other Causes

There are other things that seem to have high correlations with bruxism.  In other words, when they are present, bruxism tends to be present as well.

An example is the hyperactive personality.  Hyperactivity is associated with a compulsion towards perpetual movement, which is why a lot of hyperactives tend to be fidgety or display tics when compelled to “be still”.  Teeth grinding may be a sort of fidget for such people.

The same goes for aggressive or Type A personalities.  In this case, it is most likely stress or anxiety operating on them.  As mentioned earlier, these two are prime factors for sleep bruxism.

Studies also suggest that certain sleeping behaviors tend to be present too in those who suffer from sleep bruxism in particular.  For example, most people who grind their teeth in bed also suffer from some form of mild somnambulism (sleepwalking, or sleep movement).  Sleep talking is associated with it too, as are wild, jerky movements when asleep.

Childhood is also very likely to be associated with sleep bruxism.  In fact, as much as a third of all children suffer from teeth grinding, which is often a worry for parents.

Fortunately, childhood bruxism is largely temporary.  The vast majority of children who grind their teeth do so only before their permanent teeth come in.  By their teenage years, most of these children will have ceased grinding their teeth entirely.

The Effects of Bruxism

Bruxism’s effects vary, to be sure.  In fact, for some people there are no noticeable adverse effects.  On others, though, this simple activity can lead to some nasty results.

Mild headaches that often go unexplained are a typical symptom of regular bruxism.  Sleeplessness may be another, although this is typically for the person with whom the grinder shares a bed, instead of for the grinder themselves.  Then there is the jaw pain that comes from constant clenching of the mandible.  TMD (Temporomandibular Disorder, often also called TMJ or Temporomandibular Joint disorder) is worsened by bruxism.

Temple-located pain is common.  Increased tooth sensitivity is also a regular symptom.  Tooth fractures, tooth decay, and overall deterioration of the teeth are all linked to persistent bruxism.

These insidious effects can be avoided, however, with some smart lifestyle changes and the proper treatment.  There are mouthpieces and other treatments now available for people with bruxism who do not want to suffer the many problems the condition can visit upon them.


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