Powerful Jaws Can Damage Your Teeth
Believe it or not, our jaws are powerful enough to bend metal
According to some dental researchers, our jaws can produce remarkable pressure, in some cases reaching over 1000 Newton (for a physics refresher, see Newton’s Second Law of Motion), or measured another way, up to 265 PSI (pounds-force per square inch). That’s enough pressure to do a lot of damage, but imagine the impact on teeth!
While we’re capable of creating that kind of pressure, most of the time our teeth never touch unless chewing. Yet, nearly every week, we see patients at Pine Lake Family Dentistry with a cracked or broken tooth—even from chewing something as soft as cake!
Though our patients may be surprised, for us, it’s a telltale sign of an existing, long-term problem: Bruxism. One of the most common dental issues we see in our office, Bruxism is excessive pressure on our teeth from grinding or clenching, most of the time unknowingly…until a tooth breaks.
Tooth enamel is the hardest tissue in our bodies, but it’s still susceptible to damage. Excessive force from grinding and clenching creates micro fractures in the enamel. Over time, as more and more pressure is applied, the fractures get deeper and deeper, until one day the tooth unexpectedly cracks. Until the broken tooth, Bruxism symptoms often go unnoticed.
Dentists are trained to see the signs, though. Grinding or clenching eventually erodes tooth enamel and exposes the more sensitive layer of dentin where nerves can be threatened. In addition to tiny fractures, the pressure can cause chipped enamel, short or worn-down teeth, discoloration and receding gums. Patients report pain or tightness in their jaws, sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures or unexplained earaches and headaches.
Up to 50 percent of adults suffer from Bruxism, and the single most common factor among them is stress. Demanding work environments, deadlines, difficult relationships and hectic family schedules all contribute to the tension we hold in our bodies. To release it, our muscles react by tightening, causing our jaws to contract, leading to grinding and clenching.
Whether day or night, Bruxism is difficult to control. While awake, teeth clenching is common in times of stress or intense focus (i.e. work, driving or exercise) and often goes unnoticed even with constant awareness. While sleeping, clenching and grinding is completely involuntary and often undetectable—causing substantial damage night after night. Eventually, it can lead to expensive dental work like crowns, root canals and implants. So the earlier it’s detected, the better the prognoses.
Preventative treatment is always easiest and most effective. The first line of defense is to find ways to relieve stress with a balanced diet, regular exercise and taking time to relax. If no serious signs are present, we may recommend using a custom fitted night guard as the most conservative treatment. Fitting over teeth and worn while sleeping, a night guard creates a cushion between the upper and lower teeth that absorbs the force of powerful jaws, preventing future damage.
Bruxism can also be treated with Botox therapy. Clinically approved by the FDA for Bruxism, Botox can be used to target the muscle responsible for clenching. It relaxes the jaw and reduces the force it can inflict upon teeth—if not preventing the pressure completely. While night guards protect teeth from grinding, Botox helps prevent muscles from clenching. Combined, these two treatments offer a powerful solution to a potentially serious problem.
Regular, annual dental check-ups (coupled with daily brushing and flossing, of course!), are an important step in detecting Bruxism and other serious dental issues. Talk to Dr. Chen about any sensitivity, jaw soreness, earaches and headaches. She’ll be able to detect abnormal patterns in tooth wear, fractures, muscle tightness in the jaws and joint noises—all of which are indicative of grinding or clenching.