Teeth grinding, or bruxism, is a common chronic dental issue that involves jaw clenching and grinding the teeth. In many cases, the person grinding her or his teeth doesn’t realize it because it often occurs during sleep. Because bruxism can cause significant (and often painful) problems for the teeth and jaw over time, it is important to find the root cause and seek treatment as soon as possible.

There is no single cause for teeth grinding. Bruxism may be related to a physical problem with the teeth or jaws, emotional issues, or medical reasons. Your risk for bruxism increases if:

  • You experience high levels of stress and anxiety
  • You smoke or consume alcohol or caffeine
  • You have missing teeth or an uneven or misaligned bite
  • You suffer from a sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea
  • You take certain drugs or medications, including antidepressants
  • You have a family history of bruxism

Think you might grind your teeth? Here are some common signs of bruxism and options for treatment.

Signs of Teeth Grinding

Teeth grinding is an unconscious contraction of the jaw muscles. For this reason, most people are not aware that they grind their teeth until they experience the painful effects. Some common symptoms of teeth grinding include:

  • Frequent daytime headaches
  • Increased tooth sensitivity or discomfort
  • Pain or soreness in the neck, face or jaw
  • Chipped, fractured, or flat and worn-down teeth
  • Exposed tooth layers caused by worn enamel
  • Clicking or popping in your temporomandibular joint
  • Sleep disturbance and/or feeling tired during the day
  • Ear pain
  • Grinding that is loud enough to wake your sleeping partner

If you experience one or more of these symptoms, you may be grinding your teeth. It is important to determine what is causing you to grind your teeth, so you can take the steps to correct it.

Your Dentist Can Help

If you suspect that you are grinding your teeth, you should visit your dentist. During a dental exam, your dentist will look for signs of grinding, such as cracks, chips or loose teeth.

The best way to overcome teeth grinding is to first understand the root cause. For instance, if your teeth grinding occurs during periods of high stress, finding ways to relax when you are feeling tense or anxious can help reduce the risk of grinding.

Your dentist can also offer treatments to prevent grinding and reduce the risk for damage to your teeth and jaw. The most common dental treatment for bruxism is a custom-made bite guard that is worn over the upper teeth at night. The device creates a protective barrier over the teeth, eliminating direct tooth-on-tooth grinding.

Anti-inflammatory medications and muscle relaxants may be used in conjunction with dental appliances. Each patient’s treatment is unique based on symptoms and responses to these first line defenses. Botox may be recommended for patients who don’t find relief from the first line treatments.

In some cases, your dentist may also recommend restorative dental procedures or orthodontics to alleviate symptoms of bruxism. Crowns, bonding or orthodontic appliances can help repair dental damage, restore the integrity of your teeth, and realign your bite to eliminate teeth grinding and reduce symptoms.

In summary, treating bruxism can help relieve painful symptoms — such as frequent headaches — and restore lasting dental health. Your dentist can identify signs of grinding or clenching during a regular exam and recommend the right course of treatment.

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