Bruxism (BRUK-siz-um) is a condition in which you grind, gnash or clench your teeth. If you have bruxism, you may unconsciously clench your teeth together during the day, or clench or grind them at night (sleep bruxism).
Sleep bruxism is considered a sleep-related movement disorder. People who clench or grind their teeth (brux) during sleep are more likely to have other sleep disorders, such as snoring and pauses in breathing (sleep apnea).
Mild bruxism may not require treatment. However, in some people, bruxism can be frequent and severe enough to lead to jaw disorders, headaches, damaged teeth and other problems.
Because you may have sleep bruxism and be unaware of it until complications develop, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of bruxism and to seek regular dental care.
Why Do People Grind Their Teeth?
Although teeth grinding can be caused by stress and anxiety, it often occurs during sleep and is more likely caused by an abnormal bite or missing or crooked teeth. It can also be caused by a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea.
What causes Bruxism?
Bruxism almost always occurs in association with other factors. About 70% of bruxism cases that occur during sleep are thought be related to stress and anxiety.
There’s also an association between bruxism and obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). OSA is a sleep disorder where your breathing is interrupted during sleep. How bruxism and OSA affect each other isn’t currently fully understood.
Teeth grinding can also be caused by taking antipsychotic and antidepressant medication, particularly a type of antidepressant known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Your lifestyle can also have an effect. For example, regularly drinking alcohol, smoking and using recreational drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine increases your risk of bruxism.
Doctors sometimes refer to teeth grinding caused by an underlying condition as primary bruxism. Teeth grinding associated with a medication, condition or lifestyle factors is often known as secondary bruxism.
Symptoms of Teeth Grinding
Signs and symptoms of bruxism include:
- grinding sounds while the person is asleep
- headache, jaw joint and/or ear pain
- aching teeth, particularly just after waking up
- aching and/or stiffness of the face and temples just after waking up
- aching or stiffness in the jaws while chewing, particularly during breakfast
- clenching the jaw when angry, anxious or concentrating
- temperature-sensitive teeth
- cracked or chipped tooth enamel
- tooth indentations on the tongue
- raised tissue on the inside of the cheek caused by biting
- loose teeth.
Teeth Grinding in Kids
While it’s very common for kids with ADHD to be bruxers, they aren’t the only ones. Kids most commonly gnash, clench, or grind their teeth at night, which can be linked to any number of things, including:
- Mouth breathing at night
- Sleep apnea
- Dental occlusions
- Liking the feeling of gnashing the teeth, which turns it into a habit
- Psychological problems
Since many children still have their baby teeth, the grinding may not be an issue a dentist addresses. Even when the child has flattened his or her baby teeth from excessive grinding, those teeth will be lost and adult ones will come in. Many children naturally abandon bruxism as they age and physical or mental problems from their childhood recede.
There are a number of possible treatments for teeth grinding, but only a few have been shown to be effective.
Behavioural therapies and the use of mouth guards or mouth splints can be effective in managing the symptoms associated with bruxism.
Mouth guards and mouth splints work in the same way by reducing the sensation of clenching or grinding teeth, and also help prevent any wear on the teeth.
Other treatments, such as muscle-relaxation exercises and sleep hygiene, may also help manage your symptoms.
If you grind your teeth while you’re asleep, you may need to wear a mouth guard or mouth splint to protect your teeth from further damage.
If you have an anxiety or stress-related problem, a course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may be recommended. The aim of CBT is to help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and how you act.
It may be possible to break the habit of teeth grinding using habit-reversal techniques.
Making some simple lifestyle changes, such as giving up smoking (if you smoke), reducing your alcohol consumption and managing stress may also help.