Bruxism (Teeth Grinding)

Overview

What is bruxism (teeth grinding)?

You probably grind your teeth or clench them once in a while. Occasionally grinding your teeth most likely won’t cause any harm.

But if you regularly grind your teeth, you may have a condition called bruxism. It can hurt your:

  • Jaw muscles.
  • Teeth.
  • Temporomandibular joints (TMJs), which connect your jawbone to your skull and allow you to open and close your mouth.

What are the types of bruxism?

Bruxism can happen when you’re awake or asleep. The grinding action is the same, but awake and asleep bruxism are considered two separate conditions:

  • Awake bruxism: You clench your jaw and grind your teeth during the day with this condition. It’s usually tied to emotional issues. Feeling anxious, stressed or angry can lead to teeth grinding. But so can concentrating on something. Awake bruxism often doesn’t need treatment, if you’re more likely to notice and stop. Stress management can help and learning ways to become aware can also help reduce the frequency.
  • Sleep bruxism: You grind your teeth while asleep with this form, which may cause more harm. You may not get the help you need since you’re unaware it is happening. Another challenge with sleep bruxism is that people don’t realize how strong they’re clenching their jaw and teeth. They can use up to 250 pounds of force, causing jaw pain and teeth problems. Clenching can also lead to headaches.

Why is teeth grinding harmful?

Teeth grinding can cause several problems:

  • Changes in how you look (aesthetic problems) and your facial profile.
  • Fractured or loosened teeth.
  • Harming your TMJs and jaw and neck muscles.
  • Loss of teeth.
  • Wearing down of teeth.

Can children have teeth grinding?

Like adults, children can have bruxism. Parents may hear their children grinding their teeth in their sleep. But bruxism in children may not lead to long-term damage. Children’s teeth and jaws change quickly, and they may outgrow bruxism by the time they lose their baby teeth.

Still, some children continue to grind their teeth until their teenage years. And regardless of age, teeth grinding in children can lead to:

While stress is a main cause of bruxism in adults, that’s not usually the case with children. Teeth grinding in children may come from:

  • Allergies.
  • Misaligned teeth.
  • Mouth irritation.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Heredity.

Talk to a healthcare provider or dentist if your child’s teeth look worn or you hear grinding. Also get any complaints of jaw or teeth pain checked out. Your provider may recommend a night guard for teeth grinding. This night guard can help until they outgrow bruxism. If the bruxism turns out to be stress related, providers can also recommend stress relief options.

Who is at risk for bruxism?

Men and women get bruxism at roughly the same rate. If you have a family history of teeth grinding, you may face a higher risk. Other risk factors include:

  • Personality type, as people who are very driven may be more prone to teeth grinding.
  • Stress.
  • Cigarette smoking and caffeine use.
  • Certain anti-anxiety medications.

How common is bruxism?

Bruxism is a common sleep disorder. It affects about 10% of adults and up to 15% of children.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes teeth grinding?

There are many causes of bruxism, including:

Lifestyle habits, such as drinking alcohol, using cigarettes and recreational drugs, and consuming a lot of caffeine (more than six cups of coffee a day). People who drink and smoke are twice as likely to grind their teeth as people who don’t.

  • Sleep disorders.
  • Stress and anxiety.
  • Taking certain medications, including a class of anti-anxiety drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Is bruxism a sleep disorder?

Researchers have studied sleep bruxism. They’ve found it starts as a type of sleep disturbance in the central nervous system. Factors that can make the problem worse include:

  • Stress and anxiety.
  • Alcohol.
  • Certain drugs and diseases.
  • Heredity (if people in your family have this problem).
  • Smoking.

What are the symptoms of bruxism?

You may not realize that you’re grinding your teeth at night. But signs that you may have bruxism include:

  • Disrupted sleep.
  • Headaches or facial pain, especially in the morning.
  • Earaches.
  • Painful or loose teeth.
  • Sore jaw muscles.
  • Teeth fractures.
  • Wear on teeth.
  • TMJ, which sounds like clicking or popping in the jaw.
  • Pain with eating.
  • Jaw locking.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is bruxism diagnosed?

If you think you may be grinding your teeth, see your dentist. They can examine your TMJs, jaw muscles and teeth for signs of bruxism.

Healthcare providers can often diagnose bruxism based on the physical exam and your symptoms. But in some cases, you may need a sleep study called polysommography. This test takes place in a sleep center and can provide a definitive diagnosis.

Management and Treatment

How is bruxism treated?

There are no medications to stop teeth grinding. Your dentist may fit you with a night guard. You put this customized orthotic device in your mouth before bed. It protects your teeth, muscles and TMJs from the force created during grinding. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe a muscle relaxant to take before bed.

What else can I do to stop grinding my teeth?

Your provider may review your medications to see if any are contributing to bruxism. Stress may also be a factor. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to reduce stress:

Other ways to cut back on teeth grinding include:

  • Avoid alcohol and smoking.
  • Avoid or reduce caffeine in foods and drinks such as colas, chocolate and coffee.
  • Be aware of teeth clenching during the day. Try to stop yourself: Keep your lips together, teeth apart and tongue behind the front teeth.
  • Don’t chew on nonfood items, such as pencils or pens. Also avoid constant, daily gum chewing.

Prevention

How can I prevent teeth grinding?

To prevent bruxism:

  • Avoid cigarettes, drugs and alcohol, which can make sleep bruxism worse.
  • Get regular dental checkups. A dentist can treat problems from teeth grinding as soon as possible, so you can avoid long-term damage.
  • Treat other dental problems you may have, including misaligned or missing teeth.

Outlook / Prognosis

What’s the outlook for people with bruxism?

The outlook for people with bruxism is good. Children often outgrow teeth grinding by adolescence. For adults, follow your provider’s recommendations. For example, if you have a night guard for teeth grinding, wear it regularly. Sticking with your treatment plan helps improve symptoms, so you feel your best.

Living With

How can I best take care of my jaw and teeth?

You might find that certain sleeping positions cause you to grind your teeth more. You may be able to decrease bruxism by avoiding those positions.

Also look for ways to manage stress. Many people find that stress management can greatly relieve teeth grinding. In addition to talk therapy, you can try at-home stress relief, including a warm bath before bed and listening to soothing music.

What else should I ask my provider about bruxism?

If you have bruxism, ask your provider:

  • Do I need a night guard?
  • Do I need dental treatment to fix teeth problems?
  • What other treatments can help stop teeth grinding?
  • Will I need a sleep study to diagnose bruxism?
  • What medications can help?
  • Will there be long-term effects from teeth grinding?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Teeth grinding, or bruxism, happens when you clench and grind your teeth. It can happen when you’re awake or asleep. Sleep bruxism can cause more problems since you don’t realize you’re doing it. Without treatment, teeth grinding can lead to problems with your teeth, jaw muscles and jaw joints. If you wake up with headaches or have jaw soreness, see a healthcare provider. They can find the right treatment for you, which may include a night guard for sleeping. Stress management can also help reduce teeth grinding.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy