Teeth grinding, which is also known as bruxism, is a widespread phenomenon. It typically manifests as the lateral grinding of incisors and canines.1 Teeth grinding can occur when awake, when sleeping, or both. The cause of teeth grinding differs from person to person based on psychological, genetic, and social factors.2 Many people have no idea they grind their teeth.
The signs of teeth grinding in severe cases can be accompanying jaw pain in the temporomandibular joint, headaches, earaches, loss of sleep, or even tooth damage. There are several treatments for teeth grinding. These include mouth guards, which prevent further tooth damage, and therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy to address the stress which causes the grinding and clenching to begin with.
The exact causes of bruxism are to this day not entirely understood, but there are many factors thought to contribute to the condition.3 Teeth grinding and jaw clenching comes in two forms known as awake bruxism and sleep bruxism. They both involve the same signs of clenching and grinding of teeth.
If you suffer from awake bruxism, it is likely to have a different set of causes than sleep bruxism. Awake bruxism is often caused by psychological or emotional triggers. These include intense feelings of tension, anger, stress, anxiety, or depression. Daytime teeth clenching or grinding can also be a habitual byproduct of concentration. Because this form of teeth grinding is caused by psychological stress, it is often best treated with a combination of therapy, meditation, and exercise.
Teeth grinding at night, or sleep bruxism, is classified as a sleep disorder.4 Grinding teeth at night is more common than during the day, but it can easily go undetected unless it becomes severe and causes daytime sensitivity or pain. Often, it takes a partner noticing the grinding sound to realize that bruxism is occurring. Nighttime teeth clenching and grinding is thought to run in families, and so is potentially a genetic condition.5
Sleep bruxism can be caused by a variety of factors. It can be idiopathic, without being related to other conditions and with no known cause, or it can be secondary and brought on by another physiological or neurological condition.
Many secondary conditions instigate bruxism. One common secondary cause is the presence of another coexisting sleep disorder. Conditions like obstructive sleep apnea are often linked to teeth clenching and grinding. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is yet another common condition that is associated with teeth clenching, as acid reflux is thought to trigger a response in the brain to stop the highly acidic contents of the stomach from reaching the throat by clenching the jaw.
The use of certain drugs, both medicinal and illicit, can cause teeth clenching and grinding. These can include antidepressants, amphetamines, cocaine, or antipsychotics. The consumption of caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol before bed is also known to increase the likelihood of nighttime teeth grinding.
Teeth grinding is often a mild condition with low negative impacts that comes and goes. Severe ongoing episodes of clenching teeth and grinding can, however, have an array of negative impacts. It can damage teeth and any fillings or dental work that’s been done, disturb your sleeping partners, cause tension headaches, or facial pain and irritation.
Depending on the cause of your teeth grinding, there are a variety of methods to help relax and reduce the ramifications of bruxism. If your teeth grinding occurs when you are awake then often simple steps like leaving physical reminders to stop clenching teeth can help you change your habits without the use of a splint or mouth guard.6 Additionally, certain stress-relieving activities or cognitive behavioral therapy have been known to help rewire those daytime habits. Mouthguards or mouth splints can also stop you from grinding your teeth by keeping your teeth separated when you are sleeping so that you can’t grind them.
A mouth guard for teeth grinding is one of the most popular and effective methods of treating bruxism. This is especially true for those who suffer from sleep bruxism rather than daytime bruxism. Mouth guards help reduce the impact of clenching teeth on the jaw muscle and prevent tooth damage by preventing you from fully closing your mouth.
Improving overall relaxation, as well as implementing physical therapy techniques, can help relax your jaw. Wearing a mouthguard while sleeping can also align your jaw to reduce the overuse of the jaw muscles. The application of cold or heat to your jaw muscles can also help soothe them.7 More specifically, there are several exercises that can help you relax your jaw and relieve tension. One such exercise involves standing in front of the mirror and opening and closing your jaw gently for a few minutes in the morning and evening.8
Grinding your teeth can have several unwanted and potentially harmful side effects. Some side effects of clenching your teeth can be jaw pain and soreness, jaw stiffness, earaches, headaches or poor sleep quality leading to tiredness.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.