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Sleepwalking on a treadmill

Has your dentist ever asked you if you grind your teeth? You’re pretty sure that you don’t, yet somehow they’re almost positive that you do. How can this be? It’s not like you wouldn’t notice if you were grinding your teeth hard enough to wear on them or even break them. Right?

Most people experience bruxism, which is an unconscious grinding of the teeth while sleeping.  Bruxism is considered a parafunctional habit because it serves no useful purpose. A parafunction “is the habitual exercise of a body part in a way that is other than the most common use of that body part.” The common use of your teeth and jaws is for eating, swallowing and speaking…not for grinding against one another! It is hypothesized that bruxism is related to or caused by stress, diet, sleeping habits and even the use of alcohol or other drugs. Bruxism is “centrally mediated” which means that the activity starts in and is completely controlled by the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is the part of the brain and spinal cord that controls the automatic things that your body does like breathing, digesting, heart rate and other nervous system functions that you don’t have to actively think about. The truth is that you don’t have any control over it. Much like breathing and your heartbeat, you can’t decide to stop doing it. Furthermore, it probably won’t wake you up. It could wake your husband, wife or cat, but you’ll probably sleep right through it!

Bruxism exercises your chewing muscles while you sleep. Think of it like sleepwalking (or running!) on a treadmill. The activity of nighttime grinding can actually cause your chewing muscles to hypertrophy or become larger like a bodybuilder! The tooth grinding that you do at nighttime is actually much stronger than any chewing or grinding you can do consciously when you’re awake. Once you fall asleep, the gloves come off and you can grind really hard! Some people have significant tooth wear and even tooth breakage because of their night time tooth grinding. People who have an acid problem due to gastric reflux or diet can speed up the wear of their teeth even more when they grind their teeth at night. Many people who have been grinding their teeth throughout their lifetime can have significantly shortened front teeth and worn or broken back teeth by the time they reach their 40’s or 50’s.

There’s no way to cure bruxism, but if you’re one who grinds your teeth hard at night you might consider having a dentist fit you for a protective appliance at night time. An appliance like this won’t stop your tooth grinding, but it can protect your teeth from damage and potentially help you to grind your teeth with less intensity.

Are you worried about night time tooth grinding? If you want to be evaluated our office can help! In fact, we would like to be your Saginaw dentist office! Feel free to call the office at (989) 799-9133, request an appointment online or email me at alan@meadfamilydental.com. Even if we can’t stop your sleepwalking on a treadmill, we can probably help you find some nice cushiony shoes!