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Clenching and Grinding

Let’s talk about “clenching” and “grinding” of teeth. Somebody actually measured the amount of time teeth are in contact per day while chewing food. It was only 8 minutes of tooth contact time! Only 8 minutes a day is not thought to cause the severe wear seen on a good proportion of adult patients’ teeth. What is going on? A lot of folks (including me before I was a dentist) don’t know that just because our teeth fit together, we should not be holding them tight together all the time, a habit called ‘clenching.’ Other folks rub their teeth back and forth, (or tap out song rhythms with their teeth!), habits akin to grinding of teeth. Most are unaware that they do this. During waking hours, we can train ourselves to refrain from keeping our teeth tight together. First, start observing what your teeth are doing at random odd moments, like riding in a car, lifting something heavy, watching TV, shopping, mowing the lawn, you get the idea. If you catch them tight together, just open up a tiny bit and take the pressure off. You can stop a daytime clenching habit if you want to.

But what about when we are sleeping? Clenching or grinding is not under voluntary control during sleep, and a lot of damage can be done to teeth unwittingly. There are different patterns of damage, but none of them are desired! I often recommend a Nightguard. This is a custom-made horseshoe-shaped appliance that fits on either the upper or lower arch and provides a layer of plastic as a buffer between the teeth. With the teeth slightly separated while wearing a Nightguard, many people stop their clenching or grinding, but even if they continue, the damage is less because the teeth aren’t rubbing on each other: one arch is protected in the Nightguard, while the other grinds on acrylic, which is softer than enamel and does less damage.