Occlusal (Bite) Disease (Bruxism)



Dental occlusion information sheet

Dental occlusion is the coming together of teeth ̶ a meeting of two surfaces made of the hardest stuff in your body and the movement of those surfaces against each other. You probably haven’t devoted a lot of thought to making those surfaces do either of those things because, for most of us, it just happens. Thankfully, your brain is able to coordinate 32 teeth and dozens of muscles into a harmonious movement without telling you what it’s doing. When you’re enjoying dinner with your favorite person, this is a very good thing. If you are grinding your teeth away, it’s not so good. Your teeth were designed to last a lifetime, but there are some things that can get in the way of that happening for you.

There are three diseases that negatively affect teeth: decay (cavities), periodontal disease (gum disease), and occlusal disease (destruction of teeth). Most of us are intimately acquainted with the signs, symptoms and treatment of the first two through either personal experience or being told about them at the dentist. Occlusal disease, pathological pushing of the teeth against each other, tends to get less attention. It is often indicative of an underlying problem, and the usually slow progression of any damage means that the signs of destruction are often experienced as “normal.”

All dentists are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of decay and periodontal disease in dental school. Through education and experience, the doctor is able to “look into the future” and recommend appropriate treatment to minimize the effects of these diseases by dealing with them as early as possible. Fewer dentists, however, have been trained to “look into the future” of occlusal disease.

Effects of occlusal disease

Wear, sensitivity, cracks, loose teeth, breaking teeth, sore muscles, painful jaw joints, headaches, acid reflux, breathing disorders, and sleep apnea – these and more can be associated with occlusal disease. An obvious injury, like a broken tooth, often hides the underlying cause.

Your doctor has invested considerable time into developing the ability to recognize the signs of occlusal disease and provide or recommend appropriate treatment to halt, and often reverse, its effects. Recognizing occlusal disease as early as possible increases the probability that you will keep your teeth and have young teeth at an elderly age.

Not many years ago, most senior citizens wore partials or dentures. Today, that number is a small fraction of what it used to be. Since fewer people suffer loss of their teeth today, the effects of occlusal disease can be seen in an ever-increasing number of adults. In fact, many of the restorations and repairs that adults find necessary might have been avoided if the signs of occlusal disease had been recognized and the underlying problems addressed in the early stages.

Silent signs of occlusal disease

The interaction of tooth against tooth can cause painful symptoms such as those noted above, but the real dangers are the underlying causes and the changes that produce effects that are not immediately and readily apparent to you. Whether or not you experience pain, the damage to teeth and the progression of the underlying cause are as real as a painful injury. Our bodies adapt to the things we do and often fail to alert us until something is so damaged or broken that it can be difficult to bring things back to health.

Your doctor routinely incorporates evaluation of the signs and symptoms of occlusal disease into every comprehensive evaluation and periodic examination you experience in this office. He or she knows that “looking into the future” means providing you with information about what’s happening today that will impact your teeth and your life 5, 10, 20 and more years from now.

Keeping your teeth in maximum comfort, function, and esthetics for your entire lifetime depends on us working together to see and address the signs and symptoms of the disease processes that work against that goal. Failure to address them has a profound impact on your overall health and your life. Together we can be an unbeatable team that keeps occlusion working for your health and not against it. Have a nice dinner with your favorite person.

Gary DeWood, D.D.S., M.S., Spear Faculty and Contributing Author