When a patient finds out they grind their teeth, they are usually met with a recommendation for an expensive mouthguard from their dentist and sent on their way. But why do we grind our teeth in the first place? Has stress related to Covid caused more grinding? And is grinding really such a big deal? Tend’s Head of Clinical Development, Dr. Marc Schlenoff, has these answers and more. (Spoiler: yes, grinding is, in fact, a very big deal.)
Grinding can be caused by stress, but it’s also genetic
While a lot of us grind due to stress, “some people who are seemingly under no stress grind because that’s just the way they’re hardwired,” says Dr. Schlenoff.
For stress-grinders, Covid is a factor
Many if not at all of us have been under heightened stress since the start of the pandemic. And this would logically lead to an increase in “the intensity and severity” of grinding, says Dr. Schlenoff.
Grinding produces a huge amount of force
“Grinding can generate up to 1,100 pounds per square inch of pressure on your teeth.” To put that in perspective, that’s 3-6 times the pressure you use to eat.
Evidence of grinding is easy to spot
When people grind, the cusps of their teeth gradually become flatter, and shinier, then shorter. “I always show my patients a picture of the wear to show them exactly what’s happening,” says Dr. Schlenoff.
Grinders typically grind for an hour or so per night
“We grind and clench and then we stop and then we do it again...all night long,” says Dr. Schlenoff, adding up to about 60 minutes total.
You’re more likely to grind if you snore
Some snorers assume they couldn’t possibly grind their teeth while snoring, but sadly they’re wrong. In reality, “grinding is just momentary, and there’s almost a 100% correlation between snoring and grinding.”
Grinding wears away at enamel, then at dentin
Now for some dental anatomy: a tooth has layers that grinding destroys bit by bit. The first layer is the enamel, which coats the outside of the tooth and is “the hardest substance in the body.” Once you grind through this, you’re in trouble. Underneath the enamel is “dentin,” a yellowish substance that’s 11 times weaker than enamel. As a result, it will erode 11 times more quickly.
Grinding affects multiple teeth at a time
Grinding doesn’t just happen to one tooth: it occurs in a sliding motion that wears down many of your teeth simultaneously in a fairly symmetrical way.
There’s a point of no return when it comes to tooth damage
Because the tooth gets softer the deeper you go, over time the damage grinding causes begins to accelerate. At a certain point, the damage is beyond repair and your teeth will require crowns. Dr. Schlenoff recalls, “I’ve had cases where I had to do crowns on every tooth in the mouth to rebuild them to their original height because people have worn them down so dramatically.”
Repairing this damage can be incredibly expensive
A single crown can cost up to $2500, depending on where you live. If your case is really extreme and you need crowns on every single tooth like Dr. Schlenoff’s patient, that could result in a whopping cost of $80,000.
There’s a way, way cheaper alternative
Since there’s no way to consciously stop grinding (especially in our dreams and during a pandemic), our best mode of defense is a night guard. That’s a simple piece of plastic custom-molded to your mouth that you wear just when you sleep. A night guard typically costs less than a thousand dollars. We charge $599 if you don't have dental insurance, and if you do, it could cost significantly less than that.
That translates to at least $79,401 that you could spend on say, two cars, some bougie vacations, and hundreds of takeout dinners instead. Because as much as we love the dentist, we’re pretty sure that having great wheels, sitting on a beach, and eating delicious food beats sitting in a dental chair.
Here’s to strong enamel and grind-free teeth!
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