A clinical trial due to start in the next month will gauge the level of night-time teeth-grinding in 50 people — and what the potential triggers are that cause it in the first place.
The study, which will last a year, will use a new medical device called a Smartsplint which measures tooth-grinding during sleep.
Those participating in the study will use the device — a mouth guard with in-built sensors — while sleeping at home.
The information is then read by placing the mouth guard in a special box linked to a smartphone app.
The study, which is awaiting approval from the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), will be led by Brian O’Connell, dean of dental affairs at the Dublin Dental University Hospital at Trinity College Dublin, and based on an original student project.
Mr O’Connell said half of those participating in the study would be able to regularly access the data charting the level at which they grind their teeth, and this might help establish reasons why teeth-grinding occurs when sleeping.
The other 25 participants will not receive regular updates, and Mr O’Connell said he hoped the study would help indicate whether greater knowledge as to the extent of and possible triggers for grinding led to those participants taking increased steps to manage the condition.
“It is not a cure but what we hope it will do is track the triggers that cause tooth grinding,” he said.
He said many people might not even know they grind their teeth at night, adding: “Unless your sleep partner tells you, there is no other way of knowing.”
Mr O’Connell said that the damage from teeth-grinding was cumulative but it became more of an issue in older people, to the extent that in some cases it might limit people’s lifestyles.
“In general they don’t want to go out or to lunch or a Communion or wedding,” he said.
As for teeth-grinding while sleeping, he said: “There was always an assumption that it is stress-related. Now it is thought it could be part of a group of sleep disorders, like sleep apnoea.”
Grinding, also known as bruxism, is a chronic condition affecting 8% to 20% of the population and falls within the spectrum of sleep disorders with characteristic changes in heart rate, respiration and muscle activity.
According to those behind the study, the diagnosis of teeth-grinding is a major obstacle to the management of the condition.
The study is due to get under way later this month or in early February.
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