Tooth grinding, or bruxism, is caused by excessive bite forces being exerted on the teeth for a prolonged period. These abnormally high bite forces are also called para-function. There has been prolific dental literature about the causes of tooth grinding, and unfortunately, due to the complexity of treating this condition, many clinicians blame stress and depression for bruxism. The reality is that tooth grinding is caused by the lower jaw being trapped in a uncomfortable backwards position, causing the patient to grind or clench their teeth subconsciously in an effort to wear down the teeth that are preventing the lower jaw from finding a comfortable “down and forward” position. There are 5 factors responsible for trapping a lower jaw, namely: a narrow maxilla; a Dental Division 2 (front teeth leaning back); a deep bite; a Skeletal Division 2 (whole maxilla short and set back); or a incorrectly housed Class 3 (too large lower jaw against a unbalanced upper jaw).
Bruxism can lead to excessive tooth wear, clicking joints, headaches, ear ache, neck pain, shoulder pain and tender teeth. Men normally respond by wearing their front teeth down, and women tend to suffer from jaw pain and headaches, especially over the age of 40.
The ideal treatment includes releasing or untrapping the lower jaw by eliminating the causes mentioned above. It involves orthodontic correction of the bite, allowing the lower jaw to function in a comfortable position. The teeth ultimately need to occlude (fit together) where the jaw is comfortable. If the patient does not choose orthodontic correction, we can alternatively use splint therapy to give the lower jaw a comfortable bite whilst the appliance is in position. These appliances are often used at night.