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It’s not just nightmares or a lumpy pillow that could be causing you to wake up feeling less than refreshed — grinding your teeth is the oral equivalent of nervously tapping your foot, only it happens while you’re in dreamland.

Bruxism, the official term for tooth grinding and clenching, occurs both during sleeping and waking hours. And it’s no niche ailment: researchers estimate that 20 percent of adults deal with some form of bruxism during the day (Opens in a new window) (where it’s found to occur predominantly among females), while according to the American Sleep Association (Opens in a new window) 10 percent have it while they rest (making it the third most frequent parasomnia (Opens in a new window)).

And the impact it can have on your health? Instant frown face. Here’s what you need to know about teeth grinding:

I saw the sign(s)

Of course, clenching your jaw is by no means a common cause of death, but it can impact your health in obvious — and not-so-obvious — ways. The biggest indicator that you and your mouth are getting tight would be tooth wear. The anatomy of the tooth will be worn down if you’re a severe grinder, because you’ve been grinding away your tooth structure,” explains Karla F. Solis, DDS, of LA Holistic Dentistry (Opens in a new window). You might also fracture your fillings or chip your teeth. Popping, clicking, or lockjaw can also be caused by bruxism. And though you may not notice it, Dr. Solis notes that you’ll have scalloping on your tongue on the sides.”

Woman smiling and closing her eyes with nature background

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More than the mouth

It’s not just your pearly whites that indicate grinding. Headaches, for example, can also be tied to teeth grinding. And the long-term impact goes beyond your smile: Maybe people think that it’s mild or on-and-off, but really it is something that can be very crippling later on in life,” says Dr. Solis. You can almost get arthritic in those joints — and once you have that, there’s no way of restoring it,” she warns.

The root of the problem

What’s behind your oral drama? The Mayo Clinic (Opens in a new window) points to everything from personality type to genetics to medication or underlying medical disorders as the cause. There are some theories (Opens in a new window) that you could have parasites in the actual joint or in the gut,” says Dr. Solis. But other times, she adds, it’s just modern-day anxiety that’s getting you going. If people are stressed out, they’re grinding their teeth.” The Bruxism Association (Opens in a new window) puts this number at 70 percent of cases, FYI.

Dental dos

The good news is that you don’t have to just grin and bear it, if you’re dealing with some form of bruxism. Being proactive about your tooth grinding or clenching is key — and depending on the cause, there are a few different treatment options. Mouth guards are a popular option when it comes to protecting your enamel.

Pro tip

Dr. Solis recommends seeing a chiropractor first before being fitted for one. The cranium is really related to the sacrum, so if something’s off in your hips or back it will throw off your jaw, or vice-versa.”

If it’s stress that’s causing you to clench at all hours of the night (or day), establishing anxiety-reducing routines are important — but they’re not a panacea.

You can meditate before bed, but let’s face it — when you’ve had years and years of deterioration and really breaking down a system, it’s going to take some serious meditation over many years to re-habit,” says Dr. Solis. Which isn’t to say that it’s a lost cause: She had a patient who was able to meditate her way into not grinding — but the patient still had to address the breakdown through crowns and other dental care,” she recalls. So it’s very important to get it checked out and handle it. Prevention, for me, is the biggest thing.”

Learn more about Karla F. Solis, DDS, of LA Holistic Dentistry (Opens in a new window) on Facebook (Opens in a new window) and Instagram (Opens in a new window).

Articles from The Natural should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult a medical professional.