Do you notice yourself clenching your teeth when feeling stressed out? Do you often wake up with a sore jaw and aren’t sure why? You may have a dental condition known as bruxism, or tooth grinding. Many people deal with tooth grinding, especially at night — one study found that 8% of participants experienced sleep bruxism1. What causes bruxism, why is it problematic, and how can you manage it? This guide will help answer your questions!
What causes bruxism?
Teeth grinding may be a reaction to stress or anxiety, and people often do it unknowingly during the day. A misaligned bite or crooked teeth can also cause bruxism, as can sleep disorders such as sleep apnea2. Bruxism may also be connected with caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol use3.
How can you tell if you're grinding your teeth?
Since most people don’t consciously grind their teeth, you may wonder how you can tell if you’re doing it. You may notice symptoms such as a sore jaw, tooth pain, or headaches, especially after you wake up. Bruxism can also cause your jaw to lock up and prevent you from opening or closing your mouth fully4.
Why is bruxism problematic?
Left untreated, bruxism can cause a variety of issues beyond the symptoms listed above. For instance, it can wear down the enamel that protects your teeth from decay5. It also causes receding gums6, a process that wears away gum tissue and exposes more of the tooth, allowing bacteria to build up and increasing the risk of cavities and tooth loss. Additionally, bruxism can loosen, flatten, or fracture your teeth7.
Bruxism’s effects don’t stop with your teeth — grinding your teeth may result in earaches8 and it puts jaw joints under a lot of stress. This can cause temporomandibular disorder (TMD), an issue that results in a clicking or popping sound in your jaw when you open and close your mouth9. Not only is TMD uncomfortable, but it can cause difficulty with chewing and speaking.
What can you do about bruxism?
Talk to your dentist if you suspect or know that you grind your teeth. They can fit you with a mouthguard to wear at night that prevents you from clenching your teeth as you sleep. In some cases, they may prescribe you with muscle relaxants to take before bed to keep you from grinding your teeth7. If you’re experiencing jaw or tooth pain as a result of bruxism, your dentist or physician may prescribe a painkiller as well.
Avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the evening may reduce the effects of sleep bruxism, too3. You can also take steps to reduce stress and anxiety, such as exercising, meditating, listening to music, or seeking counseling. If your bruxism is caused by sleep apnea or another related disorder, seeking treatment can not only help you stop grinding your teeth but also get a better night’s sleep.