An expert on bruxism (more commonly known as tooth grinding) has warned that many dentists have seen a dramatic increase in the number of patients presenting with problems related to the condition in the years since the economic downturn.
Stress or anxiety is widely believed to be an important contributing factor, and many dentists feel this explains the surge in patients presenting with bruxism in recent years.
Dr Padraig McAuliffe told delegates at the Irish Dental Association Conference in Killarney that while estimates suggest tooth grinding affects somewhere between 8 and 20% of the population, many experts believe it may be much more prevalent than this.
“Those figures mean up to 1 million people in Ireland alone may grind their teeth. This is a much higher figure than many people would expect and one that is likely to rise if present trends continue. As many of these people mainly grind their teeth during sleep they may not realise it is happening until they start to notice some signs - most commonly, tenderness or stiffness of the jaw in the morning, headaches and wear or damage to the teeth” he said.
Dr McAuliffe, who is a Prosthodontist based in Dublin and Limerick and also a researcher at Trinity College, said early detection is the key.
“Where bruxism is diagnosed early and appropriately managed, treatment, if required, can be successful and relatively simple. The most common treatment is the use of a splint or mouthguard that protects the teeth from damage and helps relieve the muscle tension that causes facial pain and headache.
However delays in diagnosis or failure by patients to use the splints provided by their dentists can result in more persistent pain and damage to the teeth that is progressive and increasingly complex to repair as time goes on. A patient who suspects or has been told, that they grind their teeth should contact their dentists for an assessment” Dr McAuliffe said.
For such a common and potentially debilitating condition, surprisingly little is understood about the exact cause of sleep bruxism but it is known to be associated with disturbed or broken sleep patterns.
“Improving sleep quality may reduce the frequency of grinding. Keeping regular sleeping hours, avoiding alcohol and coffee in the evening and avoiding smoking will all help. Of course if a person is stressed this becomes more of a challenge” Dr McAuliffe concluded.
In a separate development at the Conference which is being attended by 400 dentists from all over the country the proliferation of ‘Olde’ sweet shops and the potential dangers they posed for patients was raised by many delegates.
Dr Michael Crowe, a Dublin based dentist who also has a degree in nutrition, said people must remember that excessive consumption of any food type, but especially sweets, raises dental health and other health issues.
“We don’t want to be kill joys and dentists like everyone else like the occasional sweet. However there appears to have been a significant increase in the number of these ‘olde’ sweet shops in recent times. Our concern is that there may be a corresponding increase in excessive consumption of sugared confectionery with the associated negative consequences on people’s oral health, including decay and fractured teeth.
Everyone has a favourite sweet from their childhood, it’s perfectly natural. All we are saying is don’t overdo the taste for nostalgia and don’t let your children overdo it either” Dr Crowe concluded.
Note to Editor
In addition to the natural incidence of bruxism, increased levels of teeth grinding can also reflect neurological, psychiatric and post traumatic disorders.