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I look a bit like a boxer at night now, but at least I'll get to keep my teeth.

About five years ago, I decided to get my periodontal disease operation taken care of in another, cheaper country. When the dental sugeon told me my teeth were showing signs of wear and tear due to nightly grinding, I didn't take it very seriously. She could simply have been out to make more money from a dental tourist, after all, and my dentist back home had never mentioned it.

Fast forward to about a month ago, when I got a new dentist who soon warned me about the nocturnal grinding. Sleep bruxism is actually pretty common. How do you recognize the signs, and what can you do once you've been diagnosed? I'll be telling you all about it, from personal experience.

What's Sleep Bruxism?

Bruxism is an exotic-sounding term for a relatively common condition: grinding or clenching your teeth together. While people do this both during the day and at night, sleep bruxism or nocturnal tooth grinding affects about eight percent of all adults and perhaps as much as a third of kids, if parental reporting is anything to go by. Grinding or clenching your teeth occasionally isn't that bad. If you do it every night, though, the condition comes with a range of unfortunate consequences, which can include:

  • Wearing your teeth out much faster than necessary.
  • Otherwise damaged teeth. They can chip, for example.
  • Jaw disorders.
  • Ear pain.
  • Headaches.
  • Waking your partner up with your grinding noises.
  • Achy face muscles. Really.
  • Injuries to the inside of your cheek.
Unless your partner tells you that you grind your teeth at night, you may not be aware you are doing it — you are asleep while it's happening, after all! 
Sleep bruxism is yet another good reason to see your dentist for frequent routine checkups, ideally twice a year. Your dentist will almost certainly recognize the tell-tale signs.

What Causes Nocturnal Tooth Grinding?

There are some indications that life-related stress and anxiety play a role in the development of sleep bruxism. It has not been linked with psychological or psychiatric disorders, though certain medications used to treat those disorders — like some antidepressants and schizophrenia medications — do cause sleep bruxism. Things like drinking, smoking, using recreational drugs, and simply being extremely tired contribute as well. People who grind their teeth at night have a higher chance of also suffering from disorders like sleep apea and snoring. Finally, malocclusions can also lead to bruxism. 
Where stress or other causes are to blame for sleep bruxism, a multifaceted approach that treats the underlying cause as well as preventing grinding is recommended. I do suffer from the occasional bout of stress myself, just like everyone else, but I don't drink much, smoke, use any medication that could contribute to bruxism, or anything like that, so my dentist labeled my bruxism as being primary sleep bruxism, and didn't recommend any treatment except a mouth splint. I'm now the owner of a green contraption that makes me look like a teen with braces. 
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