Most experts classify teeth grinding, called bruxism, as a sleep disorder. It can get ugly when grinding begins to cause damage to your chewing muscles, jaw joint, and teeth. Grinding can even cause changes to daily facial expressions. Knowing whether or not you grind at night is a crucial step in preventing disfigurement of your teeth and chronic pain.
But, as you mention, how can you tell if you’re grinding if you’re unconscious while you do it? People who grind their teeth at night usually have no idea that they’re doing it since they’ve been doing so since childhood and because it happens while they’re asleep.
Thankfully, there are ways you can tell. Try looking in the mirror. Do your teeth all appear the same length? It’s the “flatness” of the teeth that gives it away, which comes from being worn down from grinding night after night.
Take a look at Jim Carrey’s teeth above. His teeth appear “flat” and are all the same length.
Looking at your teeth in the mirror is a good first step, but keep in mind that it’s not all about looks.
Do your parents or siblings grind their teeth? Grinding is inheritable.
If you’re a parent wondering if your child is grinding his teeth, have you tried sleeping in the same room as your child for a night? Many parents are shocked after sleeping in the same room as their children to hear the noise their children make as they grind their teeth.
Your partner can also help you figure out whether or not you grind your teeth. I have a patient that always complained about a squeaking noise that he would hear late at night that kept him awake. One day I asked him if his wife had ever complained about hearing the noise and he said that she did not. It occurred to me later that day that she was grinding her teeth and making the squeaking noise. I asked her to come in (up until this point I had never met her) and confirmed that she was a grinder. She now wears a night guard at night and both are sleeping well.
Odds are that you a bruxer, as studies indicate that 70% of the population (or 95% if you ask the American Dental Association) exhibit some kind of bruxing behaviour. If you’re young, keep in mind that you might grind your teeth but experience few or none of these symptoms because you are used to the state of being a grinder. Fetuses exhibit bruxing behavior in utereo. So it may be all you know, and seem perfectly normal. I hope the list below gives you some ideas on how to know if you are grinding at night.
Are You a Grinder? Ask Yourself the Following Questions
Do you have dreams about your teeth either breaking or falling out?
Do you have neck pain?
Do you have facial or jaw pain?
Do you get earaches?
Do you have a clicking sound in your jaw?
Do all of your front teeth look like they’re the same length or appear flat?
Do you have generalized pain in the area below the ears?
Are your parents or siblings grinders?
Does anyone else hear you grinding your teeth at night?
Are any of your teeth loose?
Do you have teeth sensitivity?
Do you have a white line on the inside of your cheek?
Do you wake up in the morning with a dull headache?
Are the edges of your tongue scalloped?
If you experience any of the above, you are probably grinding your teeth. Go see your dentist for help.
Mark Burhenne DDS