Bruxism is the medical term for unconscious tooth grinding. The name is derived from the Greek ebryxa, which means “to gnash the teeth.”1 A bruxer, or tooth grinder, may grind their teeth during the day or while they sleep. Both types of bruxism can result in chipped, broken, and even loose teeth, a common sign of teeth grinding. Nighttime or nocturnal bruxism can result in sleep disruptions.2
Even though daytime or awake bruxism occurs while the bruxer is fully alert, it occurs without the tooth grinder being aware of it. It often accompanies negative emotional states. Anxiety and stress increase the risk of awake bruxism.3
Nighttime, nocturnal, or sleep bruxism happens during sleeping hours. The incidence of sleep bruxism increases with stress levels, heavy alcohol consumption, caffeine usage, and anxiety.4 Sleep bruxism is also correlated with snoring and obstructive sleep apnea, a condition during which the airways become temporarily blocked by the soft tissues of the mouth and throat.5
Both awake and sleep bruxism can cause unpleasant complications. The continued wear of teeth on teeth can actually wear through the hard enamel, exposing the softer and more vulnerable parts of the tooth. The jaw muscles may become tired or sore, and can even become so overworked that they are unable to fully manipulate the jaw open or closed.
Sleep bruxism can disrupt the natural sleep cycle. This can result in not only reduced total sleep, but also in sleep that occurs for the same amount of time but does not provide as much actual rest.6 Less time spent in the deeper stages of sleep leaves a sleeper feeling unrested, even if a healthy amount of time is spent sleeping.
There are a number of ways to reduce the incidence of bruxism, some of which work for both awake and sleep bruxism. Reducing stress and anxiety can help to reduce the incidence of both types of bruxism. Anxiolytics, tranquilizers, and sedatives may be used for short periods of time to reduce bruxism.7
Daytime bruxism may be treated with biofeedback therapy, where the tooth grinding is brought to the conscious attention of the bruxer. The amount of tension present in the jaw muscles is measured and presented to the bruxer in real time so that the tooth grinder can learn how to keep the muscles relaxed.8
Sleep bruxism can be managed with oral appliances that protect the surfaces of the teeth from damage. While this does not eliminate bruxism, it does reduce the negative outcomes from tooth grinding.9
Nocturnal bruxism is the unconscious grinding of teeth while sleeping. It is considered a sleep-related disorder, and can damage your teeth and jaw. It may be caused by stress and anxiety; use of drugs like caffeine and nicotine; or other factors. Because grinding teeth at night occurs while sleeping, it can be difficult to treat through behavioral or biofeedback methods. A mouth guard for teeth grinding can protect teeth and dental restorations like crowns and implants from being damaged by nocturnal bruxism.
Although daytime bruxism occurs while the bruxer is awake, this form of teeth grinding is as unconscious behavior as nocturnal or sleep bruxism. Daytime or awake bruxism can be treated with behavioral counseling or with medication or oral appliances.11 Medications may include anxiolytics to reduce general anxiety, or botulinum toxin injections to partially relax the jaw muscles.12
Bruxism can resolve itself spontaneously when stress or anxiety levels drop. Since the most common cause of bruxism is anxiety or stress,13 if your life becomes less stressful or you grow less anxious, your bruxism may resolve itself.
Maybe, but don’t forego a proven bruxism treatment by relying on magnesium supplements. There are anecdotal testimonies from at least one clinical practitioner14 that claim magnesium supplementation as a method for reduction of bruxism symptoms. However, there has been little to no testing of the hypothesis that magnesium supplementation can help reduce the incidence of bruxism. Furthermore, the accepted signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency do not include bruxism.15
© 2021 American Sleep Association.