What is teeth grinding (bruxism)?

Most people grind and clench their teeth from time to time. This occasional grinding usually does not cause harm.

When teeth grinding occurs on a regular basis, it is a medical condition called bruxism. The teeth, temporomandibular joints (TMJs), and/or jaw muscles can all be affected.

Why do people grind their teeth?

Research has shown that grinding originates as a type of sleep disturbance in the central nervous system and is affected by stress and anxiety, alcohol, smoking, diseases, trauma, heredity, and certain drugs. Bruxism has several causes and no one factor is associated with bruxism for all people. Current studies have shown bruxism to be modulated by neurotransmitters in the central nervous system.

How can I find out if I grind my teeth?

Because grinding often occurs during sleep, most people are unaware that they grind their teeth. Morning headaches, sore jaw muscles, fracture of teeth, and wear on teeth are often signs and symptoms of bruxism.

If you suspect you may be grinding your teeth, talk to your dentist. Your dentist can examine your TMJs, jaw muscles and teeth to evaluate for signs of bruxism.

Why is teeth grinding harmful?

In some cases, chronic teeth grinding can result in fracturing, loosening, or loss of teeth. The chronic grinder may wear his or her teeth significantly resulting in esthetic problems, and changes in facial profile. The TMJs and muscles of mastication (chewing) can be negatively affected due to the excessive forces involved in grinding.

What can I do to stop grinding my teeth?

At this time, there are no drugs or dental therapies to stop grinding. However, your dentist can fit you with a night guard (orthotic) to protect your teeth, muscles and TMJs from excessive forces during the grinding episodes.

If stress is contributing to your bruxism, ask your doctor about options to reduce stress and to review your medications that may contribute to bruxism. Attending stress counseling, starting an exercise program, seeing a physical therapist or getting a prescription for muscle relaxants are among some of the options that may reduce the effects of bruxism.

Other tips to reduce teeth grinding include the following:

  • Avoid or cut back on foods and drinks that contain caffeine, such as colas, chocolate and coffee.
  • Avoid alcohol and smoking.
  • Do not chew on pencils or pens or anything that is not food. Avoid constant, daily gum chewing.
  • Become aware of not clenching your teeth during the day. If you clench or grind during the day, train your tongue to rest lightly behind your upper front teeth. Remember: “Lips together, teeth apart, tongue resting lightly behind the front teeth.”

Is teeth grinding a problem only for adults?

The problem of teeth grinding is not limited to adults. Approximately 15% to 33% of children grind their teeth.

Most commonly, children grind their teeth during sleep rather than during waking hours. Parents often hear their children grinding their teeth during sleep. Grinding of deciduous (baby) teeth rarely results in problems. However, teeth grinding can cause jaw pain, headaches, wear on the teeth, and TMJ disease in children. Consult your dentist if your child’s teeth look worn or if your child complains of symptoms.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 4/10/2017...#10955