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The Daily Grind

It’s a tough gig being a serious grinder. The daily impact of chronic tooth clenching and grinding creates head, tooth and jaw aches, reduces concentration and damages your teeth – it also hurts the hip pocket. I chat with Dr Chris Burton about an issue close to my jaw (… and heart).

Photo: Mark and I at magazine launch - my square jaw line is a result of heavy tooth grinding.

Tooth grinding – I’ve done it all my life. I did it so well that I recently had to every single tooth in my mouth built up to resemble normal teeth and correct my bite. It got to the point that I had to have a tooth removed and muscle relaxant in my masseter muscles to provide a little bit of relief from the daily pain in my face.

Dr Chris Burton is the trusted local dentist I called upon to find out a bit about how this issue can be prevented and what we should all be doing to care for our very precious teeth. Until you have spent 12 hours (over 2 days) in a dentist chair getting a composite filling to build up every tooth, you don’t realise how important it is to get your dental situation sorted early.

“I think everyone grinds at different times in their life – some just do it better” says Dr Chris “Clenching and grinding is usually caused by bite interferences – early intervention and orthodontic work to get the bite right will prevent a life full of painful teeth”.

“Having braces is much more common now and we are more aware of the need to improve orthodontics to prevent adult oral health issues” he adds.

The youngens are not going to suffer as badly from grinding and clenching as us older generations. So, for those that have already done the damage there is light at the end of that grinding tunnel.

You can reduce impact by wearing a dentist made and approved splint at night (I wear one every night) and Dr Chris says you can even train yourself not to do it.

“When you become conscious of it, it’s all about being aware of where you position your tongue when you are rest” he says “At rest your tongue should be at the roof of your mouth behind your front teeth – you’re not pushing it there, that’s where it should sit naturally and while it’s there you cannot clench”. I am checking my tongue positioning now – bet you are too.

Once the damage has been done there are ways to fix it. Like me, you can have your teeth built up with composite fillings or crowns.

Many sufferers are having a dentist or cosmetic nurse inject the masseter muscles with relaxant – this certainly reduced the severity of daily headaches for me.

Avoiding acids in your diet is important too. Acid erosion softens enamel and makes the effect of clenching and grinding even worse. Foods you should steer clear of include citrus fruits, vinaigrettes, salad dressings and sports drinks. The worst thing you can do is have something acidic then brush your teeth – essentially, you have softened the enamel and, by brushing, you are removing even more enamel. Some fluoride rich foods are helpful in restoring enamel naturally like dairy products, spinach, grapes and potatoes (even white wine – this is not a joke).

Enamel toothpastes will help but you are best to rinse with water first and give your saliva a chance to naturally buffer your tooth enamel. Remember, we only have a very thin layer of white enamel on our teeth so the more we scrub away the darker our teeth become. Tooth bleaching will improve opaqueness though, even in older teeth.

Preventative care

- Floss daily “the flossers of the world go down one road and the non-flossers keep the dentists busy” – Dr Chris Burton.

- Get a regular dental check-up.

- If you think something is wrong get it addressed before it becomes a big and more expensive issue.

- Stick with a big-name brand toothpaste and alcohol free mouthwashes – they are the least abrasive.

- Use a soft toothbrush with a small head.

- Brush lightly or let your electric toothbrush do the work.

- Saliva is the natural protector of your teeth so ensure you keep a hydrated mouth.

- Drink more water. I recommend getting a Monten Sparkling Water machine - bubbly water is much more exciting than still.

Published in IN Noosa Magazine | Autumn 2023

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