Bruxism

Why you grind your teeth and how to stop

Woman clenching her teeth
Marvin Fox/Moment/Getty Images

If you routinely grind your teeth or clench your jaw, you may be having side effects ranging from headaches or facial pain to receding gums or a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder that can lead to its own host of health problems. Or you may be grinding without even realizing it: Lots of people clench and grind in their sleep and wouldn't notice unless a spouse or partner points it out.

Either way, what may seem like an innocuous nervous habit actually is considered a medical condition called bruxism. The symptoms and complications of teeth grinding typically aren't serious and treating it is often simply a matter of dealing with what might be causing it—for example, certain medications increase the risk of bruxism and so a prescription change could be all it takes to "cure" the condition.

Other people may need more help, such as taking measures to relieve stress (people often grind their teeth when they're nervous or under pressure) or wearing a mouth guard during sleep.

Symptoms and Complications

Most of the time, bruxism is not severe enough to cause major problems. Symptoms include:

  • Facial pain
  • Headaches—tension headaches from day grinding and morning headaches for nighttime bruxism
  • Earaches
  • Receding gums
  • Damage to teeth: chips fractures, worn enamel, flattened tops, loose teeth 
  • Teeth that are oversensitive to cold, heat, or pressure
  • Chewed places on the tongue or cheek
  • Noise from the grinding or clenching that wakes your sleeping partner
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders
  • Jaw damage
  • Depression

Causes and Risk Factors

There are lots of reasons a person grind their teeth. These are the most common causes and risk factors for bruxism:

  • High emotions. Frustration, stress, tension, anxiety, and suppressed anger are all potential culprits. 
  • Youth. Kids are more likely to grind their teeth than adults are. In fact, children who have bruxism usually outgrow the tendency to clench and grind by the time they reach adulthood.
  • Aggressive personality. This extends to those who are competitive or hyperactive.
  • Medications. Research shows that certain medications are known to cause bruxism—in particular, some that are used to treat psychiatric conditions. It's thought that these drugs cause changes in the central nervous system that lead to teeth grinding and jaw clenching. Examples of such medications include antipsychotics and antidepressants, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), and Paxil (paroxetine). 
  • Certain substances. Cigarette smoking, caffeine, alcohol, and recreational drugs all may increase the risk of bruxism, studies have found. 
  • Genetics. Bruxism tends to run in families, according to the Mayo Clinic
  • Certain mental and physical health problems. Disorders associated with teeth grinding include Parkinson's disease, dementia, gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), epilepsy, night terrors, sleep-related disorders such as sleep apnea, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

    Treatment

    Bruxism is highly treatable. The key is to figure out what's causing your to grind your teeth and then target your treatment based on that. 

    Self-care

    If your bruxism is causing you pain, try these steps at home to help:

    • Make sure you drink lots of fluids. Water is best.
    • If your jaw is sore, apply ice or wet heat.
    • Don't chew gum—this can make pain worse.
    • Stay away from hard candies, nuts, steak, and other foods that are difficult to chew.
    • Try to relax your face throughout the day. Self-massage may be helpful too: Feel for small, painful nodules called trigger points that can cause pain throughout your head and face.
    • Manage stress. Do whatever you can to reduce your stress because stress makes bruxism worse. Take a bubble bath, go for a walk, or listen to your favorite music. Learn relaxation exercises such as mindfulness, deep breathing or meditation.
    • Change your behavior. The Mayo Clinic suggests discussing with your dentist techniques for practicing proper mouth and jaw positioning. 
    • If you tend to grind in your sleep, don't have foods or beverages that contain caffeine before bed. Alcohol and smoking in the evening also can trigger bruxism worse.
    • Stay on top of your dental care so that your dentist can monitor any damage you might be doing to your teeth.
    • Get plenty of sleep

    Specialist-Driven Help

    When chronic stress or anxiety is driving you to gnash and grind your teeth, it may be helpful to see a counselor or therapist: Once you've dealt with the issues that are causing your emotional distress you may find that your bruxism abates. 

    If other efforts fail to help you break the bruxism habit, biofeedback may be worth trying. This is a method that uses monitoring procedures and equipment to teach you to control muscle activity in your jaw. 

    Mouthguards and Splints

    If you're a night grinder, a mouthguard, also known as an appliance or splint, may be helpful. Some fit over the top teeth, some fit over the bottom teeth. They may be designed to keep your jaw in a more relaxed position or to provide some other function.

    One such splint, for example, called the NTI-tss, fits over just the front teeth in order to keep the back teeth (molars) completely separated. This is based on the theory that most clenching is done on these back teeth. With the NTI, the only contact is between the splint and a bottom front tooth. In studies, the NTI-tss splint has been found to help prevent bruxism. 

    Medications

    Just how useful medications can be for helping with bruxism has yet to be proven in research. However, muscles relaxants and even Botox injections have shown promise as temporary antidotes for teeth grinding teeth when it's not caused by a medication. They are also effective as an add-on treatment when your medications are causing the problem.

    If your bruxism is caused by medication, your doctor may consider either changing your dose or putting you on a different medication.

    View Article Sources