At first, you might not even have noticed you were grinding your teeth at night. Maybe you woke to a sore jaw some mornings, or your teeth felt a little more sensitive than usual. Then your partner told you that the grinding sounds from your side of the bed were disrupting their sleep, and you realized the truth: you have bruxism. But since the pain isn’t bad yet, you wonder if the hassle of a dentist appointment is really worth it.
The truth is, many people delay or avoid seeking treatment for bruxism. Some don’t realize what’s wrong, or don’t know what to do about it. Some assume it will go away on its own. Others are put off by the idea of wearing a night guard, because they think it will be pricey, uncomfortable, or just look bad.
But while your teeth grinding may only be a minor annoyance now, the long-term effects can be serious—causing you bigger problems and leading to more expensive treatments down the line. Here are just a few potential consequences of leaving your bruxism untreated.
A common long-term side effect of bruxism isn’t exactly life-threatening—but that doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating. Over time, excessive grinding and clenching can noticeably change the shape of your face. Much like your arm muscles will grow if you lift weights every day at the gym, the muscles in your lower jaw can thicken or enlarge due to the abnormal strain, making it appear more square.
From a medical standpoint, stronger jaw muscles aren’t a serious issue. But many patients feel self-conscious about the fact that their face looks larger, damaging their self-esteem.
Luckily, the changes usually aren’t permanent. If you remedy your bruxing, the muscles will relax and eventually shrink down.
But this isn’t the only way that bruxism can affect the look of your face. Long-term bruxing will slowly but surely wear away at your teeth, causing them to shorten and become more sensitive. Shorter teeth can make your mouth appear overclosed, which may result in you looking older.
It’s well known that bruxism can cause tooth damage, like chips, cracks, and breaks. That can lead to an expensive dentist’s bill and a smile that loses some of its radiance.
But it’s not just your teeth that bruxism can damage. Your gums can also feel the effects.
In a recent study, researchers in Japan discovered a possible link between teeth grinding and gum disease. Of the 31 patients studied, half had mild or no periodontitis (gum disease), and half had moderate to severe periodontitis. The researchers found that the group with moderate to severe periodontitis bruxed significantly more than the other group in the study.
While further research needs to be conducted, this study suggests that gum disease may be more common or more severe among patients with untreated bruxism. Gum disease can be uncomfortable and painful, leading to bleeding, swollen gums. Left untreated, it can result in loss of teeth or even heart and lung diseases.
Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ)
The temporomandibular joints are located on either side of your jaw. They allow you to open and close your mouth, so they play a crucial role in talking, chewing, and other necessary movements. But if one or both of these joints becomes damaged, worn down, or inflamed, you can develop a painful condition called a temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ .
TMJ often results from an accident or injury. But studies show that prolonged grinding and clenching can also lead to TMJ—which can last anywhere from a few months to countless years.
Many of the symptoms of TMJ are similar to those of bruxism—and when you experience both conditions together, these symptoms can significantly worsen. You might feel pain and tenderness in your face, jaw, and in or around your ear. It may become difficult to chew, yawn, talk, or even open your mouth. Your jaw may also get “stuck,” or become locked in the open position, resulting in a trip to the emergency room.
On top of all that, TMJ can cause facial swelling, toothaches, headaches, neck pain, earaches, and dizziness. Yikes!
What can you do to treat your bruxism and avoid further problems down the line?
The long-term side effects of bruxism are sobering. But by taking steps now to treat the underlying cause of your condition and reduce your immediate symptoms, you can protect your teeth—and your overall health.
The first step is figuring out why you’ve started grinding your teeth in your sleep. For many people, this unconscious action is caused by high levels of stress and anxiety during the day. Maybe you feel overwhelmed at work, or are worried about something going on at home. If you can’t eliminate the stressor from your life, you can explore stress-reduction methods, like meditation, breathing exercises, or taking a relaxing walk.
By addressing the root cause of your bruxism, it may go away on its own. But this can take time. To prevent further damage to your teeth and avoid the long-term side effects of grinding, consider wearing a night guard when you go to sleep. Night guards not only prevent you from grinding, but alleviate all the other painful symptoms that come with it, including headaches, jaw pain, and aching muscles.
If you’re hesitant about wearing a night guard, getting fitted for a custom guard will put your mind at rest. Unlike sports guards and over-the-counter boil-and-bite models, custom night guards are slim, durable, and comfortable to wear. And since they’re fitted perfectly to the unique shape of your mouth, it won’t feel like there’s something bulky in your mouth. In fact, after a few days of getting used to your new guard, you’ll barely notice it anymore—helping you get the great night’s sleep you deserve.
Getting a custom guard from you dentist means you’ll enjoy an extra layer of service and support which can be very comforting. But it can also be expensive and time-consuming, involving multiple visits. That’s why many patients prefer to get their guard from a professional dental lab, like J&S Dental Lab. You take a mold of your teeth at home using a provided kit and an easy-to-follow set of instructions, then mail it back to the lab and wait for your custom-fitted guard to be delivered straight to your door.
Don’t let your mild grinding today develop into a bigger problem tomorrow. Get in touch to learn more about our custom night guards, or to get fitted for your own.