Stephanie Vondrak is a dentist based in Elkhorn. She blog occasionally for livewellnebraska.com. Read more from Stephanie here.
As a dentist with an emphasis on overall health and preventative care, I do so much more than just treat dental disease and fill cavities. Most of us know that for excellent dental health, you must have clean, decay-free teeth and strong healthy gums. But what about your bite? Where does that come into play?
A growing concern in the field of dentistry is the epidemic of teeth clenching and grinding. Teeth grinding, also known as occlusal disease (or Bruxism) is a parafunctional habit that often occurs during sleep. Patients will unknowingly grind their teeth with tremendous force. Clenching refers to teeth being held together in a strong, forced bite for no functional purpose.
Both clenching and grinding generate tremendous force on the teeth, periodontal ligaments, Temporomandibular joints and chewing muscles, often leading to headaches, facial muscle pain, ear pain, neck and shoulder aches and jaw fatigue. People who grind aggressively destroy their dental work as well as their tooth enamel by flattening their back teeth and/or chipping the edges off their front ones.
If you think you may be a clencher or grinder, watch for these potential warning signs and symptoms:
1. Waking up with your teeth together as if you were biting. Your jaw's resting position should be teeth slightly apart and muscles relaxed. Biting upon waking is a sign of clenching.
2. Headaches first thing in the morning, especially around your temples or the back of your head (occipital region). If you clench or grind in your sleep, the muscles controlling these jaw movements are overworked. They can get sore like any other muscle in your body.
3. Ear pain with the absence of infection. Sore muscles in the jaw or TMJ joints can often feel like an ear ache. If you've been seen by a physician and no infection was found, this could be related to your bite.
What about treatment? Consult with a dentist skilled in treating Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMJ). Both protective and corrective splint therapies are available, as well as adjunct measures like physical therapy for the head, neck and facial muscles.