Can you tell your stomach not to growl?

You can’t stop the rain, peristalsis, or tooth grinding.

Everyone grinds their teeth at times but not everyone knows they do it. Even if they do, it can be hard to stop.

To eat a steak, your teeth have to pound away with about 45 pounds of pressure. Studies show that teeth are in contact only 5 minutes per day while eating. On the other hand, while clenching or grinding, a much greater force is used for a much longer time. Your jaw muscles can produce a peak force of 200 to 300 pounds when clenching, enough to break a tooth.

Since teeth crack at 125 pounds of pressure, those 200 pounds repeated for 6 to 8 hours each day produce visible fractures, loss of supporting bone, and abfractions. Usually mistaken for overzealous tooth brushing, abfractions resemble a sharp horizontal notch cut into a tree with an axe. (Heavy tooth brushing produces root wear that is dished out and wide, not sharp).

For the last 30 years, when I find patients with tooth fractures, excessive wear and abfractions, I always mention it. I show live videos of their teeth and explain the evidence. To my surprise, after seeing this, a few people will say they never grind or clench. I can watch people while they tell me they never clench or grind… in the act of clenching and grinding. An observer can watch their jaw muscles flex and pop while I inform them they are doing it. I hand them a mirror, point it out, and then the conversation stops and there’s a pause in the conversation. Never fails.

Those who don’t demonstrate it on cue, will return 4 weeks later and say…’you know doc, I grind my teeth when I’… and a variety of answers emerge. It is during stressful family or workplace conversations, while driving, while arguing, etc. This scenario happens so often, I now tell some patients to tell me in one month whether they clench or grind.

The fact is that we are always engaged in sub conscious homeostatic activities like digestion that are not supposed to be conscious, until dysfunction clues us in. So the moral of the story is… damage is the result of clenching and grinding, but we are sometimes completely unaware that we are doing this.

Fortunately, help is available to prevent the damage. Stay tuned for the next exciting installment.