Nighttime BruxismAre You Subconsciously Grinding?

Sensitivity to heat and cold. Loosened teeth, fractures, and debilitating headaches. All this can occur while you sleep—from grinding your teeth. Dentistry calls it bruxism.

Talk about shell shock. Dentists see evidence of life in the fast lane everyday. As many as 90 percent of us grind our teeth each night, on the average of five episodes per evening. The bite force is so powerful—over 200 pounds per square inch—and the noise so fearful, you cannot physically duplicate this phenomenon when you’re wide awake. While you’re sleeping, a lot of damage is being done.

Bruxing seems to be associated with the REM stage of sleep, the part where dreaming and rapid eye movement occur. There is some evidence that a bite out of alignment contributes to bruxing, but most agree stress is the problem. Or, even more alarming, the anticipation of stress.

Most people learn about a bruxing habit from the spouse who has to put up with it every night. More clues; waking up in the morning with sore jaw joints or muscle fatigue, loose teeth.

Physical therapy, muscle relaxants and, sometimes, a custom dental appliance can help. But learning how to handle the stress in your life could salvage more than your teeth.