Tooth-grinding - the sickening gnashing of molar on molar - has be one of the most god-awful sounds.
It can occur during waking hours but happens most often when we're in dreamland. Some of us who find the mere thought of that noise nauseating and would never make it intentionally become the worst offenders once we drift off.
This can be extremely unpleasant for the pour soul stuck snoozing next to us. The grinding can sometimes be heard as far away as the next room (or so I've been told).
The noise factor aside, tooth-grinding or jaw-clenching, also known as bruxism (to grind or clench is to brux) can be the cause of painful jaws, migraine headaches, tooth sensitivity, earache, tinnitus and neck pain.
Further, it can cause cracks and fractures in teeth and fillings and damage to the temporomandibular joint, the hinge that connects the upper and lower jaw. Long term, more serious damage can render chompers useless. It can also cause cosmetic damage.
What causes folks to engage in this oral pulverizing? Usually it's attributed to daily stress or pent-up anger and/or anxiety. And don't think a dash of alcohol will ease the urge to grind; drinking and rec drugs only make it worse.
To save precious fangs, a grinder will have to try stress remedies, as well as treatments like mouth guards and homeopathy .
What the experts say
"The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the only joint besides the spine that has a disc between the two bony surfaces. What happens with bruxism is that the disc slips and allows compression of the nerves that lead to the head and neck area, causing migraines. The mouth guard must reposition the jaw forward. Orthodontics can re-establish the balance between the lower jaw and the cranium or rebuild a proper bite, along with fillings, crowns or dentures. We offer homeopathic remedies like Bach Flower (stress) , belladonna (pain) , cina (oral health), podophyllum (stress-related stomach problems) and zincum metallicum (nervous fatigue) . Yoga and meditation are also great. If you learn to control your muscles, you can control your bruxism. Bruxism is a symptom, not a cause. Just because someone gets rid of the headaches doesn't mean the stress isn't killing them anyway."
LEON TREGER , dental surgeon/holistic dentist, Toronto
"We have entire workshops dedicated to TMJ. One exercise is to lie down and separate your upper and lower teeth so you can fit your index finger between. Allow your mouth to slacken. Then close your eyes and let your tongue slither around each molar as though examining every nook and cranny. Notice the texture of your tongue. Is it hard and pointed? Can you allow it to be soft so that it sort of flows around the tooth? Examine each tooth, then allow your tongue to rest. Do the same thing on the outer edge of your teeth. Notice if you tighten up your face. When you finish, you'll find that your tongue and lips feel softer and fuller. You'll get a whole different sensation throughout the mask of your face and jaw."
MARION HARRIS , director, Feldenkrais Centre, Toronto
"Anything you do to prevent stress, like exercise, yoga and meditation, is a good thing. Treatment options may be as simple as getting some sort of a mouth guard made by a dentist. Dentists can do an occlusal adjustment, which adjusts the way your teeth come together, but then you're entering the realm of the irreversible, and you generally want to stick to reversible treatments."
EWAN SWAN , manager of dental programs, Canadian Dental Association, Ottawa
"Anger is an energy that gets trapped in the jaw. I try to understand how patients deal with anger in the body. People don't like the word 'anger.' They prefer 'frustration' because it's not as strong a term, but frustration is at the low end of the continuum. I use bioenergetic exercises that help access and connect to the emotion. Painful acupressure on the jaw inviting an expression of anger, or hitting a tennis racket on the bed, releases energy blocked by the contracted muscles."
INGRID CRYNS , bioenergetic therapist/psychotherapist, Toronto