There’s a reason for it. He or she might be examining your teeth and seeing evidence that you grind them at night, something you may not even be aware of. The dental industry estimates that 95 per cent of us will grind at some point in our lives.

At Aplus Dental clinic, our dental hygienist students are trained to perform thorough examinations inside your mouth, known as intraoral, as well as outside your mouth, known as extraoral. Aside from periodontal diseases, the hygienist is often the first-line healthcare professional to notice indications of possible major illness or dangerous conditions that may have devastating consequences. Grinding the teeth while sleeping, known as bruxing or bruxism, while not life threatening itself, can be an indicator of one such danger.

We’ve all heard that teeth grinding or gnashing and jaw clenching while sleeping is related to stress. And in many cases it is – we all have stress and it can manifest itself in our bodies in different ways. But it can also be an indication of a sleep disorder and, particularly worrisome, sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea occurs when your airway is being blocked during sleep and you actually stop breathing for short periods of time. When you stop breathing, carbon dioxide begins to build up in the blood. This causes the heart to pump harder in an effort to clear the carbon dioxide from your system. But when it occurs repeatedly, it adds a great deal of stress to your heart and can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and even heart attack or stroke.

So bruxism, this nocturnal grinding occurrence, might be thought of as one of the body’s defence mechanisms because the grinding activities, while not waking you up, will bring you out of deep sleep and closer to wakefulness, with the result being that you start breathing again.

Telling clues the hygienist will notice during examination include:

  • damage to the teeth – they may:
    • have a flattened appearance, with enamel worn away, perhaps to the point where the underlying layer of dentin is exposed
    • be cracked or chipped
    • loose
    • sensitive to cold or heat
    • have broken fillings or damage to restorations like crowns and bridges
  • other damage in the mouth, such as cheek or tongue abrasions, where the gnashing has actually grazed them

Our Aplus Dental hygienist students will ask you probing questions such as:

  • Do you wake up with headaches?
  • Do you have pain in your jaw or jaw joints?
  • Does your jaw make clicking or popping noises when you eat?
  • How well do you sleep?
  • Do you snore?

The hygienist might also ask you to open and close your mouth several times so they can see if there are limitations or difficulties in your range of jaw movement.

There are other causes of teeth grinding, stress and sleep apnea aren’t the only ones. It may be related to:

  • misalignment or an improper bite pattern
  • acid reflux
  • side effects of some medications
  • a complication of a previously diagnosed condition such as Huntington’s or Parkinson’s disease

Your risk could also be greater if you smoke, drink a lot of coffee, use alcohol or other drugs.

Based on the hygienist’s report, in addition to repairing any tooth damage of course, your dentist is likely to recommend:

  • wearing a mouth guard at night to protect the teeth
  • a doctor’s checkup for underlying disease conditions, particularly the heart

If you have bruxism, at Aplus Dental Institute, under the careful and watchful eye of our clinician instructors, our hygienists will identify it. Not only will they be saving your teeth but they could be saving your life!