If you wake up to tooth pain caused by clenching your jaw all night long, you’re not alone. Experts estimate that at least 8% of adults grind their teeth at night.1
Clenching your jaw and grinding your teeth are small habits that can have a major negative impact on your teeth and your health. But it’s possible to stop. Find out what may cause you to grind your teeth, when you might grind your teeth and how to stop grinding your teeth and clenching your jaw.
Teeth clenching vs. teeth grinding
While teeth clenching and teeth grinding sound similar, they involve different motions. Teeth grinding involves holding the teeth together while moving the jaw. Teeth clenching is simply tightening the jaw muscles and holding the teeth together, without movement. While clenching results in less wear of the teeth, it can still result in jaw soreness and damage.2 Because the causes and results largely overlap, we’ll talk about clenching and grinding interchangeably throughout this article.
Why do you grind your teeth?
Teeth grinding, medically known as bruxism, is usually an involuntary activity. Most people who grind their teeth aren’t aware of it until someone points it out or they start noticing symptoms. Though the main cause of bruxism has not been determined, a variety of factors might cause you to clench your jaw and grind your teeth during the daytime or nighttime, including:3
Stress & anxiety
Stress is a common cause of teeth grinding and jaw clenching, according to the American Dental Association.4 You might clench your jaw or grind your teeth more often when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, angry or frustrated.
Alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco use has been linked to teeth grinding during sleep. Smokers and people who drink are nearly twice as likely to grind their teeth.5
Bruxism is especially common among young children. But children usually outgrow the habit by adolescence.6
Other sleep disorders such as snoring, sleep talking and sleep apnea are closely linked to teeth grinding or clenching during sleep.7
When do you grind your teeth?
Knowing when you tend to grind your teeth is key to figuring out how to stop. There are two main types of teeth grinding:8
Grinding your teeth while awake
Also known as awake bruxism, this type of teeth grinding usually occurs while you’re feeling stressed or concentrating really hard on something. It’s usually subconscious. Most of the time, awake bruxism can be stopped or reduced by becoming more aware of it.
Grinding your teeth during sleep
Also known as sleep bruxism, this is a sleep-related movement disorder. It may cause you to grind, gnash or clench your teeth during sleep. It usually occurs during sleep arousal, when you transition from a deeper stage of sleep to a lighter stage of sleep at night.9 Sleep bruxism is unconscious, making it more difficult to stop.
Is clenching your teeth bad?
While occasional teeth grinding usually isn’t harmful, regular teeth grinding and clenching can have various negative symptoms. These may include:10
- Damage to your teeth
- Facial pain
- Jaw pain
- Jaw joint disorders
How to stop grinding your teeth
Unfortunately, there isn’t one cure to teeth grinding. But there are a few things anyone can do to address underlying causes and relieve symptoms.
How to stop clenching your jaw
Depending on when you tend to grind your teeth, you’ll want to address the problem accordingly.
If you grind your teeth and clench your jaw during the day, noticing it is the first step. Try to be aware of when you tend to grind your teeth. Whenever you notice yourself starting to do so, practice proper mouth and jaw position. Ask your dentist to show you the best position for your mouth and jaw. If you grind your teeth because of stress, you may benefit from relaxation strategies or advice from a licensed therapist or counselor.11
If you grind your teeth and clench your jaw at night, focus on treating underlying problems, like stress or sleep apnea. That can often fix the problem indirectly. It also may help to follow the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations for healthy sleep: stick to a schedule, exercise daily, turn off electronics before bed and get seven to nine hours of sleep each night.12
How your dentist can help you stop grinding your teeth
If you continually grind your teeth, your dentist will be able to diagnose the problem and determine a treatment plan going forward, which could include fitting you with a mouth guard to protect your teeth during sleep. In some cases, your dentist or physician may recommend taking a muscle relaxant before bedtime.13
Your dentist can also treat any dental damage that may have been caused by regular teeth grinding. In some cases, you may need fillings or root canals in order to repair the fractures or cracks caused by chronic teeth grinding.
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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office