Give yourself and your teeth a break

Jan. 29, 2009
Regular dental exams help detect nighttime tooth grinding.

OAK BROOK, Illinois--National Sleep Awareness Week March 1-8, 2009, will promote the importance of getting a good night's sleep.

In conjunction, Delta Dental Plans Association is raising awareness of one of the lesser-known effects of sleep deprivation--sleep bruxism--more commonly known as tooth grinding.

Sleep bruxism is an unconscious grinding of teeth during sleep, commonly associated with sleep deprivation, stress or misalignment of teeth. Depending on its severity, bruxism may damage teeth and can cause pain and discomfort.

"Tooth grinding wears down biting surfaces of teeth, and in chronic cases, can lead to fracturing, loosening or even loss of teeth," said Max Anderson, DDS, a national oral health advisor for Delta Dental Plans Association.

Sleep bruxism is common in children, especially just after the growth of baby and adult teeth. Childhood sleep bruxism also is linked to stress, but may be more closely tied to the uneven alignment of new teeth as they erupt through the gum line.

Most children grow out of their teeth grinding habits by adolescence. If you think your child may be a tooth-grinder, mention it at his or her next checkup so a dentist can assess any damage.

Since sleep bruxism is an unconscious behavior, diagnosis can be tricky. So how do you know if you're a sleep bruxer? The most common symptoms are dull headaches or earaches, soreness of jawbone or muscles and chipped or worn teeth. Often a bruxer's sleep partner will hear the grinding and may even be kept awake.

"Regular dental exams are the best way to detect bruxism," said Anderson. "It is much easier to find and correct an issue than to fix a damaged tooth."

If untreated, bruxism can lead to more serious conditions, such as temporomandibular disorders. This is characterized by intense jaw pain, locking or popping of the jaw joint and inability to open the mouth wide.

Fortunately, sleep bruxism can be treated. The National Sleep Foundation suggests winding down before going to bed to give your muscles time to fully relax.

Applying a warm compress to jaw muscles before bed can also help. If necessary, a dentist can fit sleep bruxers with a nighttime mouth guard to cushion teeth during sleep.

The not-for-profit Delta Dental Plans Association ( based in Oak Brook, Ill., is the leading national network of 39 independent dental service corporations specializing in providing dental benefits programs to 51 million Americans in more than 93,000 employee groups throughout the country.

For more information, go to Delta Dental Plans Association.

To read more about Delta Dental, go to Delta Dental Plans Association.

To read more about sleep disorders, go to sleep disorders.

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