By the end of a typical day, we have touched our teeth together during normal functions for no more than about 18 total minutes.  Usually, our teeth touch only when we swallow.  When we chew our food, a cue that we have done enough is when our teeth finally touch, prompting us to begin swallowing.

But for many of us, we press and rub our teeth together when no food is present, and for no good functional reason.  Usually, teeth clenching and grinding happens when we sleep. 
In the worst cases, the amount of time our teeth touch can be measured in hours, and the forces we create far exceed what we apply during normal eating and swallowing. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine categorizes this as a sleep movement disorder known as Bruxism. 

Stress is a Common Trigger
It remains unclear why we brux our teeth.  Through various studies, it seems that stress is a potent trigger.  However, several other factors may be involved, including

* Sleep Apnea    * Caffeine use   *  Tobacco use    *  Movement Disorders
* Gastric Reflux Disease  * Type A Personalities. 

Grinding/Clenching Severely Damages Teeth, Gums and Jaw (page 1 of 3)
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