The daily grind is wearing us down

Lydia Doherty was unaware she was suffering from bruxism until a visit to the dentist. Photo: Jack Egan

Lydia Doherty was unaware she was suffering from bruxism until a visit to the dentist. Photo: Jack Egan

When  23-year-old Lydia Doherty started waking up with headaches and face pain, she never assumed the culprit would be cracked teeth.

An annual GP check-up followed by a visit to the dentist revealed the distressing news.

"I was told there was already permanent 'moderately bad' damage to my teeth from pretty severe nocturnal or sleep bruxism," the cafe worker said.

Bruxism is an official term for the habit of teeth grinding, or clenching during the night or day and some dentists say it is on the rise.

Young women, young mothers, those with sleep conditions and those who exercise strenuously are particularly prone.

The effects of this unconscious behaviour are irreversible, starting with fine craze lines on the enamel through to the softer inner layers of the teeth and can require crowns or even extractions.

Remarkably, like Ms Doherty, most people are not aware they are suffering from the condition until a dentist intervenes, or a partner complains of grinding noises.

"I think I developed it in response to stress from studying full time at uni, stress from an unpleasant work environment, and the hours I have to work, and worrying about money too, and the fact that I just had to do all these things to get by and have little to no downtime for myself," Ms Doherty said.

Stress is a common reason given for the condition, which some dentists say wasn't prevalent in previous generations.

Leah Machmud, a dentist working in Bundoora and a bruxism sufferer, agrees that young women in particular tend to process the stress differently.

"I would say between 40 to 75 per cent of my patients have some degree of this issue and that's just the people who are coming forward," she said.

"While its possible to have grinding or clenching for no reason, that's quite rare. It's something that concerns me because I think mental health in general needs to be talked about more."

Sleep bruxism sufferers have "higher levels of perceived psychological stress and cortisol (a stress hormone) in the saliva" as well as being "more competitive and felt more anxious than normal subjects", according to a 2016 article in the Journal of Conservative Dentistry.

The report also showed significant differences in anxiety, depression, hostility, phobic anxiety, and paranoid ideation among teeth grinders.

Dr Machmud finds her bruxism patients often need a mental health assessment as well as trip to physiotherapists or myotherapists to manage associated neck and back pain.

Karen Andrews suffers bruxism, a clenching and grinding of teeth that is becoming increasingly common for young women.  Photo: Pat Scala

Karen Andrews suffers bruxism, a clenching and grinding of teeth that is becoming increasingly common for young women. Photo: Pat Scala

Author and blogger Karen Andrews agrees that anxiety and stress in her teens and 20s contributed to the condition.

"I let it go on for years until my early 30s, until I cracked a tooth, and then I thought I should see someone. I had to have a tooth removed because it was cracked too far," she said.

The damage of bruxism is permanent, meaning sufferers aren't able to fix the issue but they can prevent it from getting worse.

Nowadays Dr Machmud, Ms Andrews and Ms Doherty all wear a splint or a teeth guard at night.

The splints are designed to protect teeth from pressure during sleep as well as help dentists observe patterns.

"Given I have ongoing bruxism myself, just like any patient I need to think about changing my behaviour and managing my stress," Dr Machmud said.

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop