Bruxism

Overview

Bruxism is a condition where a person grinds, clenches, or gnashes his or her teeth; it can occur when awake or asleep. Bruxism that happens while a person is awake is more common, but bruxism that happens during sleep has been studied more. Children as well as adults can have this condition.

Many cases of bruxism are mild and may not require treatment; however, severe bruxism can lead to damaged teeth, jaw pain or tiredness, and headache. Since it is possible to grind your teeth in your sleep or be otherwise unaware that bruxism is occurring, it is important to know the signs and symptoms and receive regular dental care.

Causes

Several factors appear to have a role in the development of the condition. They include:

  • Psychosocial factors: Stress, mood, distress, nervousness, and “feeling blue.”
  • A person’s genes.
  • Consuming alcohol or caffeine.
  • Smoking.
  • Medications: Certain medicines used to treat depression, seizures, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may increase the chances of having bruxism.

Symptoms

See the chart below for a list of signs and symptoms.

Area Affected Signs & Symptoms
Teeth
  • Flattened, chipped, cracked, or loose teeth.
  • Worn tooth enamel, exposing the inner layers of the tooth.
  • Tooth pain or sensitivity.
Jaw
  • Soreness in the jaw muscles
  • Tightness in the jaw.
  • Tiredness of jaw muscles.
Head and Face
  • Headache.
  • Facial pain.

Diagnosis

See the chart below to learn how your dentist may diagnose bruxism.

Medical History & Diagnostic Tests Why it’s done How it’s done
Medical History To gain information about when the grinding or clenching happens (day or night), any symptoms you are experiencing (like jaw pain or tenderness), or other information that might lead to a bruxism diagnosis. A dentist asks questions about your symptoms such as jaw muscle pain or tiredness and when this occurs, and any stressors. He or she may also ask if your sleeping partner has noticed that you grind your teeth.
Physical Exam To look for teeth or dental restorations that are damaged as a result of bruxism; to identify painful areas. A dentist inspects the teeth for damage. He or she also checks the jaw and face for pain or tenderness.
Polysomnography (Sleep Study) To detect sleep-related disorders and to assess if teeth grinding/clenching (muscle activity) occurs during sleep. As you sleep, sensors monitor your bodily functions (brain activity, heart rate, breathing, and others). The test may include audio and video recordings. The test is usually done in a sleep center.

Treatment

Here are some possible treatments you may wish to discuss with your healthcare provider(s):

Treatment Purpose
Behavior Change Change the resting mouth and jaw position to reduce the clenching and grinding of teeth. Increase awareness and reduce clenching and grinding habits.
Stress Management Reduce stress-related responses, which may decrease bruxism.
Mouth Guards (intraoral appliances) Use a mouth guard to separate the teeth; this prevents tooth damage and may reduce muscle activity due to grinding and clenching.
Dental Treatment Repair teeth that have been chipped or worn away. Crowns or other procedures may be needed.

Helpful Tips

  • Visit your dentist regularly. Regular dental exams will give your dentist an opportunity to spot the signs of bruxism.
  • Try relaxing activities like yoga or meditation. Counseling may also help with stress reduction.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Set reminders to yourself (such as written notes or a timer on your cell phone) to keep your teeth apart if you grind or clench during the day.

Additional Resources

  • Bruxism
    Information from the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus on bruxism.
  • Taking on Teeth Grinding and Clenching
    An easy-to-read article on bruxism from the National Institutes of Health’s monthly newsletter News in Health.
Last Reviewed
July 2022