I'm an expert grinder. I've spent the past 22 years trying to find a solution to the bad habit of grinding my teeth in my sleep. With people putting themselves under more and more stress, it's becoming an increasing problem. People are also tending to keep their natural teeth for longer than they did two generations ago, but they're wearing them down like maniacs! Dentists call the habit "bruxism", and I seem to be constantly diagnosing patients, despite their protests.
I think bruxism has to be the number one thing that patients love to argue with me about. "See all these flattened areas and cracks on your teeth? That's because you've been grinding them", I say. "No, no, no, that can't be. I'd know if I grind my teeth", is the usual response.
The problem is, if you're grinding in your sleep, you may not know about it. It's not some grand conspiracy by dentists to get all their patients to sleep in mouthguards, research shows that around 20% of people brux. It can be a serious problem, causing massive amounts of irreversible damage within a few years. It's hard to fix, and can get very costly very quickly.
Here's a few things you can monitor for, so if your dentist suspects bruxism, you'll be a bit more clued in...
Putting pressure on your teeth by biting on them and grinding all night long can cause trauma, cracks, and even wear through the enamel. This manifests in many people as sensitive teeth, and for people who brux in their sleep it's often worse first thing in the morning.
Headaches or sore muscles
Grinding all night is a great workout! Unfortunately, not many of us desire huge, buffed masseter and temporalis muscles. These are the big biting muscles on the side of the face and skull. Overworking these muscles can cause them to be tender, and cause significant headaches.
Clicking or sore jaw joints
Bruxism is sometimes associated with jaw joint problems. It's not necessarily a cause, temporomandibular disorders (TMD) are very complex and often have lots of contributing factors. However, if you have clicking or sore jaw joints that bother you, it may be a sign that you're grinding in your sleep.
If you seem to always be at the dentist getting fractured teeth and fillings fixed, consider that you may be mashing them in your sleep. Even if you remember breakages happening during the day, it's likely you spent all night weakening the tooth and creating cracks.
Noise reported by partner
Does your partner snore, but deny it because they've never heard it themselves? The same can be said of bruxism. Ask your sleeping partner if they have ever woken to the sound of your teeth creating a cacophony.
Worn down teeth!
Yes, there is a small amount of tooth wear that is considered normal. It should be minimal though. Even when eating, our teeth are not actually in contact for more than a few minutes a day under normal circumstances. Our modern diet is very soft compared to our prehistoric ancestors. We cook a lot of our food and consume things that have already very refined, making the job of grinding the food up in our mouths very easy. If your dentist finds flattened, worn areas on the biting surfaces of your teeth, it's most likely due to bruxism and not from eating.
Knowing all this, you can monitor yourself for the symptoms of bruxism. If you suspect you're a grinder, ask your dentist to check your teeth for signs of trauma and wear. Preventing tooth wear from getting worse is far easier, (and much less costly!), than rebuilding teeth that have been ground down to half their size.