Under normal circumstances, your teeth should only contact for about 5 minutes each day.
Normal chewing results in brief intervals of contact between enamel surfaces, the hardest substance in the human body. Slight amounts of wear over years of function frequently occur, and bite edges can chip a little. But these durable surfaces should wear at nearly undetectable rates.
Sometimes teeth develop a flattened, worn appearance, even in young patients. And x-rays may demonstrate unusually thin layers of enamel as if sandpaper has been drawn across the chewing surfaces of the teeth. A few minutes of chewing daily simply shouldn’t erode the enamel so much.
YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW
Some patients develop a subconscious habit of grinding their teeth, either during the day or night. In many cases, the abrasive action occurs only during sleep, and for only a few seconds at a time. If you wake up with a sore jaw or a morning headache, chances run high you’re grinding your teeth during the night. In some patients, enlarged jaw muscles develop on the sides of the face from the extra activity. These muscles can be the strongest in the body, ounce for ounce. That means they can generate a lot of unnecessary damage.
The unusual activity not only wears down teeth and strains the overworked muscles. The compressive forces can also damage the intricate jaw joints on one or both sides. Damage to the joints may lead to arthritic changes, chronic pain, and popping or clicking. Once these changes settle in, reversing their condition may become impossible.
AVOIDING IRREVERSIBLE DAMAGE
If you’re waking up with a sore jaw or headaches, or you’ve noticed chips or flattening of your teeth, a consult with Dr. McNeill or Dr. O’Keefe should be on your list. The sooner the problem receives attention, the less damage there will be. Often a carefully calibrated night guard with a distinct bite relationship built in will eliminate the symptoms while protecting your precious enamel.
Daytime habits of clenching or grinding deserve attention, and strategies to reduce the problem may be developed. Dr. McNeill or Dr. O’Keefe will also analyze the current relationship between your teeth to make sure they’re moving against each other optimally when you chew. Regardless of the cause, eliminating the strain on the jaw and your teeth as quickly as possible can save you many problems as time goes on.