Bruxism is a disorder, usually manifesting itself at night, in which a person grinds, gnashes or clenches her or his teeth. Occasional grinding of teeth is not harmful, but when it occurs often, teeth can be damaged and other oral complications occur. People with bruxism are more likely to suffer from other sleep-related disorders, including snoring or sleep apnea. Sleep partners may notice bruxism in one another, and dentists can often diagnose it during routine examinations based on damage to teeth or crowns.

Risk Factors for Bruxism

There is no known cause for bruxism, and, for unknown reasons, it is common in young children, often disappearing in adolescence. People more at risk for bruxism include those who have the following:

  • Certain abnormalities of the jaw
  • Stress and/or anxiety
  • Other sleep disorders
  • Missing, crooked or misaligned teeth

Also more at risk for bruxism are people who drink excessive amounts of alcohol, smoke cigarettes, drink caffeinated beverages, take illegal stimulants, and have competitive and/or aggressive personalities.

Because the above factors increase the risk for bruxism, making lifestyle changes, and performing relaxation exercises, especially those involving the jaw and mouth, may be helpful.

Symptoms of Bruxism

Over time, bruxism can wear down enamel, and chip, fracture and loosen teeth. Bruxism can also cause damage to the inner cheek or tongue. During a dental examination, early signs of bruxism may be detected, which is one of the reasons that regular dental checkups are vital. Apart from a sleep partner's reporting the sound of teeth grinding or clenching, a person may become aware of the condition when experiencing one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Facial or jaw pain
  • Tight or fatigued jaw muscles
  • Earache
  • Headache at the temples
  • Difficulty sleeping through the night
  • Increased tooth sensitivity
  • Feeling that the jaw will not open or close completely

A clicking sound as the jaw is opened or closed, typical of patients with temporomandibular disorders (TMD), is often indicative of bruxism.

Treatment of Bruxism

In addition to lifestyle changes, treatment options include using a custom mouth guard at night to protect teeth from grinding. In some cases, a muscle relaxant is prescribed to relax the jaw muscles. In severe cases in which bruxism has not responded to treatment, orthodontic adjustment or surgery may be considered.

In cases in which bruxism has damaged teeth, a dentist should be consulted about restoring them. When bruxism is noticed in a young child, it should be reported to a dentist promptly. Although bruxism in children usually resolves on its own, it should be carefully monitored to avoid complications.

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