You've been grinding in your sleep

Stress is a very real modern-day phenomenon and can manifest itself in all kinds of ways causing damage to our health and wellbeing. But did you know that it also impacts on our dental health? Aside from the negative impact that a stress-fuelled diet may have on the health of our mouths - an increase in erosive alcohol and a desire for more sugary food and drinks, for example - stress can also lead to serious damage to our teeth. Dental teams in the UK have seen an increase in the numbers of patients suffering with bruxism which not only wears down teeth, permanently damaging them as the enamel is worn away, but increases the risk of developing other symptoms (such as headaches, TMJ disorders, facial pain, ear pain) and is associated with sleep apnoea.

Bruxism occurs in both children and adults and may occur at any time - when you are driving, reading or concentrating - but, more often than not, it happens when you are asleep (nocturnal bruxism). While we snooze, there is no feedback mechanism to tell your brain that teeth are hurting because of too much pressure. Bruxism won't keep you awake at night, but you may wake up feeling tired or with an aching jaw. Oddly enough, a 'clencher' or 'grinder' may only learn of their destructive habit during a dental check-up that will show any wear on the teeth.

Melonie Prebble is a dental therapist and sees the damage caused by bruxism on a weekly basis. She says: 'With an increasing number of people suffering with stress-related sleep disorders, I've seen a sharp rise in the numbers of patients with bruxism.

'Often, all it takes is an oral examination and a comprehensive look at a patient's medical history to highlight the problem and dentists are best placed to address them.'

The condition does not always occur in isolation either, as sleep studies have shown that those living with the disorder might also suffer from snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea - pauses in breathing during sleep.

Although the bad news is that there is no specific cure for bruxism, your dental team can organise an occlusal splint to offer relief from the disorder - a custom-made device that reduces the parafunction forces and protects your teeth. Experts are divided on the best help but other tips are making lifestyle changes to reduce stress in your life, and even hypnotherapy.

Are you at risk?

Those most at risk are people with another sleep disorder, such as:

  • Snoring
  • Obstructive sleep apnoea
  • Sleep talking
  • Sleep paralysis
  • People with a stressful lifestyle
  • Smokers
  • People with a high alcohol intake
  • People who drink six or more cups a day of tea or coffee
  • People who take medication for sleep, depression and/or anxiety.

Signs ands symptoms

  • Do you have sensitive teeth?
  • Do your jaw muscles ache in the morning?
  • Do you have difficulty in eating, first thing?
  • Do your teeth show premature wear - signs of being shorter or chipping, for example?
  • Do you suffer from frequent headaches, facial, neck or shoulder pain?
  • Has your bed partner ever complained about you making strange grinding noises in your sleep?

Bruxism Awareness Week takes place in October.