Bruxism is excessive teeth grinding, clenching, and/or gnashing. If you clench your teeth unconsciously during the day, this is known as awake bruxism. Grinding or clenching while you sleep is called sleep bruxism. Bruxism is not related to teeth grinding that can occur while talking or eating.
People who grind their teeth are referred to as “bruxers,” but most people don’t realize they have the disorder.
Bruxism is a very common condition. About half of adults in the U.S. grind their teeth. Only 20 percent of them are considered ‘bruxers,’ which means they grind their teeth enough to destroy tooth enamel.
Men and women over 25 years of age grind their teeth more often than children. Since a child’s jaw and teeth grow quickly, tooth grinding is typically not a damaging habit. Children who develop minor bruxism usually outgrow it before pain and damage occur.
Bruxism is often more severe for adults. Some mild cases do not require treatment. However, treatment, such as a mouthguard is recommended. If left untreated it can lead to:
There are two types of bruxism, including:
The cause of bruxism is still unknown.. Teeth grinding may be related to mental, physical, and genetic factors. Stress, respiratory infections, allergies, earaches, and certain medications have also been linked to tooth-clenching.
Some people are also more prone to developing bruxism than others. The most common factors that increase a person's risk of developing bruxism include:
Temporomandibular joint disorder is a condition that causes pain and improper functioning of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). It can also affect the muscles that attach the lower jaw and skull.
Bruxism is a common side effect of TMJ. However, bruxism can also cause, worsen, or turn into TMJ over time.
Common symptoms of bruxism include:
Untreated bruxism can lead to both minor and severe dental issues. Common bruxism-related conditions include:
Some treatment options for bruxism include:
Mouth guards and splints help with teeth positioning and jaw alignment, especially while sleeping. Bruxism mouth guards are made of hard acrylic because heavy bruxers will grind through soft ones.
These mouth guards are custom-made for every patient. They protect your teeth from grinding, clenching, and gnashing, while also relieving jaw pain and discomfort.
Regular dental exams (twice a year) can help catch damage caused by bruxism. If a patient’s teeth are cracked, misaligned, or teeth are missing, restorative treatment is necessary.
Dental crowns or dentures may be recommended, depending on the severity of bruxism damage.
Medications are an effective treatment option for bruxism. Common medications include:
If bruxism is linked to stress, anxiety, or other mental health conditions, your doctor may recommend:
If your bruxism symptoms are linked to another sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, your dentist may recommend treating that condition first. This is the same for medications and any underlying medical conditions, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
The best thing to do if you experience discomfort from teeth grinding is to visit your dentist. A custom-fitted mouth guard will be sufficient treatment for most cases of bruxism. These are also available from direct-to-consumer companies such as ProTeethGuard.
However, there are several things you can do to try to decrease teeth clenching habits, including:
“Bruxism (Teeth Grinding).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 10 Aug. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bruxism/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20356100
Ferri, Fred F. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2015. Elsevier Health Sciences., 2014.
Hollins, Carole. Basic Guide to Dental Procedures. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015.
NHS Choices, NHS, www.nhs.uk/conditions/teeth-grinding/treatment/.
Syrbu, John DDS. The Complete Pre-Dental Guide to Modern Dentistry. 2013.