Teeth grinding, also called bruxism, happens when a person subconsciously grinds or clenches their teeth. This can happen either during sleep, or sleep bruxism, and while awake, called awake bruxism. People that grind their teeth can cause damage to their teeth and surrounding soft tissue.1
It can be hard to catch teeth grinding early on as it most often occurs during sleep. Parents and spouses can sometimes catch their children or significant other grind their teeth. It is common in children and those who have sleep apnea.2
Although consistent teeth grinding can cause pain and damage, it is something that is fairly easily identified and treated.
Why do people grind their teeth?
There are many reasons that a person may grind their teeth.3 Many of the causes of bruxism can be prevent with simple lifestyle changes. Some causes of teeth grinding include:
- Stress or anxiety – people who are nervous, anxious or stressed may have the tendency to clench and grind their teeth as a coping mechanism.
- Misaligned teeth – people with misaligned teeth may grind more than those with straight teeth. If the mouth cannot close easily or is not closed while resting it can cause a person to grind their teeth in an attempt to be more comfortable.
- Sleep disorders – snoring, sleep apnea and sleep talking are all among the causes of teeth grinding.4
- Alcohol or tobacco use – drinking and smoking double the frequency of bruxism.
- Coffee consumption – people who drink more than eight cups of coffee a day are 1.5 times more likely to grind their teeth.5
- Personality – people who are naturally aggressive or competitive may grind their teeth more often.
- Family connection – bruxism happens commonly throughout a family. If a child exhibits bruxism there is a good chance that their parents also exhibit bruxism.
- Another disorder – other than sleep disorders, there are a few conditions that can increase the rate of bruxism in adults, including Parkinson’s disease, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), epilepsy and dementia.
Signs and symptoms of grinding teeth
Symptoms of grinding teeth can be hard to identify, especially in the beginning, because they are often subtle. Symptoms of bruxism include:6
- Loose teeth – the constant pressure on the teeth can cause them to come loose over time.
- Broken teeth – in extreme cases the pressure and constant grinding can cause teeth to break, crack and chip.
- Uneven wear and tear on teeth – often people who grind their teeth will have flattened teeth. This flattening may be obvious or not depending on the severity, either way it is something that a dentist should be able to catch during a routine exam.
- Sore jaw – putting pressure on your teeth constantly can make your jaw muscles sore and painful. This is often an early indicator or teeth grinding that gets missed.
- Painful teeth – as the tooth becomes worn down, it can become more sensitive and painful. This is most apparent when eating or drinking very cold items.
- Headaches – a headache that starts in the temple area can be a sign of bruxism. The flexing of the muscles can cause a dull and annoying headache due to the pressure placed on the head while clenching the jaw.
- Worn tooth enamel – grinding teeth over time causes the enamel to become worn. Enamel is the tooth’s protective layer preventing cavities and shielding the softer dentine and pulp on the inside. As the enamel gets worn the tooth will be more sensitive and susceptible to decay.
Diagnosing grinding teeth
It is time to visit the dentist if you are experiencing tooth pain, jaw pain or if you notice any chipping or cracking of teeth. Diagnosis of grinding teeth is fairly straight forward. A dentist will look for tenderness in your jaw muscles, obvious dental abnormalities, such as broken or missing teeth, and other damage to your teeth, the underlying bone and the inside of your cheeks.7
Bruxism treatment options
If you or your child has bruxism, your doctor may suggest options to preserve or improve your teeth:8
- Splints and mouth guards. These are designed to keep teeth separated to avoid the damage caused by clenching and grinding. They can be made of hard acrylic or soft materials and fit over your upper or lower teeth.
- Dental correction. In severe cases, your dentist may need to reshape the chewing surfaces of your teeth or use crowns to repair the damage.
- Adjust your bedtime routine. Create a soothing routine that does not involve alcoholic beverages and is easy to follow on a nightly basis. Listening to soothing music can often calm a person down if they are anxious or stressed right before bed. This can reduce teeth grinding in addition to improving overall sleep.
- Muscle relaxants. In some cases, your doctor may suggest taking a muscle relaxant before bedtime, for a short period of time, or prescribe medication for anxiety or stress.
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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.