Grinding of the teeth (clinically referred to as bruxism) results in a progressive loss of tooth height and structure. This is caused by unintentionally bringing the teeth together under pressure and then rubbing them together. Consequently, the tips of the teeth take on a flattened, roughened look. This situation can continue to the point where the outer surface of the tooth (enamel) is rubbed off, exposing the inner surface of the tooth (dentin). When exposed, the dentin may become sensitive. Patients who grind their teeth may also experience pain in their TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint), which may manifest itself as popping and clicking. Problems with the TMJ may further lead to temporomandibular disorder (TMD), which may manifest itself as lock jaw, jaw pain, earaches, headaches/migraines, and neck muscle pain.
It is interesting to note that most patients that clench or grind their teeth are not aware that they have this destructive dental habit.
Most often this grinding/clenching occurs when they are asleep.
Treatment, if the problem is recognized early, is accomplished with a hard acrylic splint or biteguard appliance. This appliance is designed to fit on the biting surface of the upper or lower teeth. This will not prevent the grinding habit, but it will absorb the force of the grinding and protect the teeth and the jaw joints. The patient will create wear patterns, holes or even destroy the acrylic appliance, which is much softer than the opposing lower teeth, and leave the teeth intact. The bite appliance is more economical to repair or replace than the teeth themselves. Thus, when worn on a daily basis, the bite guard will prevent or greatly reduce the wear process of the teeth.