Bruxism Weakens Teeth

SCMC 7-8-2009by Chris Edwards, DDS

July/August 2009

Teeth grinding can lead to oral health problems

TEETH GRINDING is clinically referred to as bruxism, and is the act of consciously or unconsciously clenching your teeth either during the day or while you sleep. Bruxism is considered both a medical and a dental problem. This is because it affects both the teeth and all of the structure near it, including the head.


Stress has been labeled as the cause of a myriad of problems in the human body, most commonly in the heart. The ongoing
economic uncertainties and global disharmony that we are living through are considered by many to be stressful. What people don’t realize until it is too late, is that unmanaged stress is quietly taking its toll on your teeth and gums in ways that could be avoided.

Bad Habits Weaken Teeth

Parafunctional problems arise which include bruxism (grinding) and clenching your teeth. For the most part, this is an unconscious situation that we unknowingly do during the day and while sleeping. These habits eventually weaken teeth, which causes wear and leads to more serious problems. They may chip or fracture and sometimes cause discomfort. Many tooth fractures though, are asymptomatic.

Regular dental examinations can pick up these problems early. If left untreated, teeth grinding can lead to the eventual breakdown of the teeth, jaw pain, headaches, loss of sleep and problems in your temporomandibular joint.

Cracked teeth are a common occurrence. After repeated parafunction, the enamel wears away exposing the dentin of the tooth. Fractures occur when the enamel is weakened, which leads to parts of the tooth breaking off , or the tooth splitting and possibly exposing the nerve. This is most commonly accompanied by pain. Teeth with fillings, especially silver amalgams, are especially vulnerable. Front teeth often wear in a way that makes them appear shorter. Th e very edges of the tooth become brittle and small pieces fracture off . These problems are solved with restorations like veneers, onlays or crowns. If untreated, infection is common and the tooth will need to have a root canal or be extracted.

Dental Mouth Guards

Habits are hard to break and for that reason there are dental mouth guards or bite splints. This therapeutic device is constructed of a specialty material and is constructed to your mouth’s exact specification by your dentist. Th e full upper mouth guard holds the jaw in a comfortable position during sleep, reducing the jaw clenching and grinding. Some patients will still grind their teeth, but the bite splint will wear before their teeth.

After market bite splints seem like a good idea but they actually lead to problems. If the bite is not balanced it can aggravate the muscles and increase muscular activity as the brain tries to correct the situation. Many store bought splints are uncomfortable to the gums and cheeks and either compound the problem or end up on your nightstand.

Stress and Periodontal Diseases

There is a strong relationship between stress and periodontal diseases. Often, due to psychological stress, people stop taking care of their teeth. They are less attentive to their healthy habits and increase the use of nicotine, alcohol or drugs.

Researchers speculate that the hormone cortisol may play a role in the connection, as increased levels of cortisol can lead to more destruction of the gums and bones due to periodontal diseases. There are practically no symptoms and if the
condition reaches to an advanced stage of gum disease, treatment and surgery are ineffective and teeth may have to be removed. Parafunction itself does not cause bone loss but in the presence of inflammation bone loss is accelerated.

Stress is a reality in our lives and very few people are immune to the negative effects. Stress can be viewed as the condition we experience when demands exceed our ability to cope. Our ability to cope is individual and we each have our unique response to stress. The first step is to become aware of the stress in your life and how it is affecting you. Pay attention, are you grinding or clenching your teeth without noticing? If so, take a breath and relax. Stress relieving activities such as exercise, balanced eating, plenty of sleep and maintaining a positive mental attitude are beneficial. Meditation, yoga, tai chi, and hypnosis are helpful tools that are used by many. Regular dental examinations can ward off damage from parafunctional problems.


Dr. Edwards graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy and Temple University School of Dentistry. He completed a general practice residency at the Queens Medical Center in Honolulu. To reach Dr. Edwards you may call 321- 751-7775 or visit