Do you or someone in your family grind, clench or gnash your teeth? Involuntary teeth grinding at night or during the day is known as bruxism. This isn't always a serious concern, but if you are a frequent and forceful grinder, this could cause long-term damage to your teeth or affect your health in other ways.
Teeth grinding treatments vary from case to case, and they may address both the physical and psychological sides of the condition. Your dentist may coordinate with other health professionals as they aim to treat the underlying cause behind bruxism as well as its effects.
Common signs of bruxism
Many people have bruxism without knowing it, or without being aware that it's a problem. If you grind your teeth at night, you may only find out about it when someone tells you, or if you notice other common signs. These can include:
- clenching your jaw when you're angry, stressed or concentrating
- stiffness or pain in the jaws, especially when chewing
- pain in the teeth, face or temples after waking up
- morning headaches
- teeth feel sensitive to temperature
- teeth are chipped, cracked, worn or feel loose
- raised cheek tissue or recesses on the tongue from biting
Some of these symptoms may be caused by other conditions, such as temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJD), but this is often linked to bruxism.
What are the dangers of bruxism?
Teeth grinding doesn't always lead to problems, but it can affect your dental health or general wellbeing if it damages your teeth, strains your jaw muscles and joints, or causes you or people around you to lose sleep.
Common problems associated with bruxism include:
- wear and damage to teeth or restorations such as fillings
- difficulty chewing or swallowing, which can affect diet and nutrition
- chronic pain
- teeth and jaws moving out of alignment
- jaw problems such as TMJD
- tooth loss
- enlargement of facial or jaw muscles
- speech difficulties
Poor quality sleep resulting from teeth grinding can also have serious effects on health and wellbeing, including fatigue, memory loss and a higher risk of workplace and motor vehicle accidents.
As many of these problems can get worse over time, it's recommended that you see a dentist if you think you might have a problem.
Who is at risk?
You may be at higher risk of developing bruxism if:
- you are prone to stress or anxiety
- you smoke
- you drink excess caffeine or alcohol
- you snore or have an existing sleep problem
- you take certain medications, including antidepressants or antipsychotics
- you use drugs such as amphetamines or cocaine
You're also more likely to grind your teeth at night (nocturnal bruxism) if you have other sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).
Why do people grind their teeth?
Teeth grinding and clenching can have a number of possible causes. Understanding why you grind your teeth will help you and your dentist to plan appropriate treatments.
Research suggests that bruxism is a habitual behaviour that develops over time, and not an automatic reflex action by the jaw. There is often more than one underlying cause for teeth grinding, which may include:
- Psychological factors, such as frequent stress or anxiety or not getting enough sleep
- An uneven biting surface caused by damaged, misaligned or missing teeth or uneven restorations
- Medical conditions such as digestive disorders, epilepsy or Parkinson's disease
- Side effect of certain medications or substances
- Teething, allergies or nutritional deficiencies (in children)
When to see a dentist
Your dentist might ask whether you grind your teeth if they notice signs of bruxism during your regular check-up, but you shouldn't wait to make an appointment if you think you have symptoms. Some people are referred to a dentist by their doctor if a headache or other problem may be caused by bruxism.
During your check-up, your dentist may ask you questions about your teeth grinding experience, sleep habits, lifestyle and any medications you're taking to help them understand the possible cause of your bruxism.
They will then carry out a comprehensive examination of your teeth and jaws and discuss the different options to help you manage or treat the condition.
Teeth grinding treatments
Bruxism treatments fall into two major categories: ways to manage the psychological or lifestyle risk factors for bruxism and physical treatments to prevent teeth from grinding together.
Your dentist will recommend suitable treatments for your unique case, but common treatment options include:
- Avoiding substances
- Managing stress
- Muscle exercises
- Improving your sleep
- Bruxism mouthguard
- Teeth repair or reshaping
- Cosmetic injections
Depending on the cause and severity of your bruxism, dentists may recommend several treatments to help prevent the behaviour and repair any damage already done to your teeth.
You can lower your risk factor for bruxism by avoiding or cutting down on caffeine, alcohol, illegal drugs or other substances that encourage jaw clenching and grinding. You should also avoid chewing gum and chewing on objects such as pencils.
If medication you're taking might be a cause, talk to your doctor to see if you can change your prescription.
Stress and anxiety are common reasons for bruxism. Your dentist might be able to recommend relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga, or they may refer you to specialist services such as counselling or cognitive behaviour therapy
You may be able to train your jaw not to clench or grind by exercising your tongue and jaw muscles so they can relax more easily. Exercises may be recommended by your dentist or a physical therapist. Massaging your jaw could help with muscle relaxation.
Improving your sleep
Bruxism is often linked with other sleeping disorders, so treating these related problems and improving your quality of sleep could stop teeth grinding at night. Aim to go to sleep at regular times, unwind in the evening and plan to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
To prevent further tooth damage and jaw strain, your dentist may recommend wearing a bite splint over your teeth at night. Similar to a sports mouthguard, these can be custom made to fit comfortably over the upper teeth or lower teeth to prevent the teeth from grinding together.
Wearing a bite splint can relieve pain and other symptoms of nocturnal bruxism. For some people, regular use of a bite splint may also reduce or stop teeth grinding altogether, but this isn't always the case, and your dentist will usually recommend other treatments to address the root of the problem.
Teeth repair or reshaping
If your bruxism is caused by an uneven biting surface, your dentist may be able to stabilise your bite by extending or reducing your teeth. Short or worn down teeth may be built up using dental crowns or large fillings, while teeth that are overlong or irregular can be reduced in size.
Dentists can also use crowns, fillings and dental bonding to repair teeth that have been worn, chipped or fractured as a result of grinding.
If protruding, crowded or otherwise misaligned teeth are causing bruxism, these issues may be corrected by orthodontic treatment using aligners, braces or other devices. However, orthodontics is usually a long-term treatment that can take many months or even several years to complete, so other teeth grinding remedies will be needed in the meantime.
Fast smile correction using dental veneers is not recommended if you grind your teeth, as there's a high chance of the veneers cracking or coming loose when put under pressure.
If exercise doesn't help to relax your jaw muscles, your doctor may give you a prescription for muscle relaxant medication. However, this is only a short-term remedy.
Biofeedback therapy uses electrical stimulation to help bruxism sufferers learn how to control their jaw muscles more effectively. Biofeedback may offer short-term benefits for bruxism, but research is currently limited.
A less well documented treatment to relieve teeth grinding is the injection of toxin to relax the jaw muscle. As this toxin is normally used for cosmetic purposes to reduce the signs of ageing, more research is needed to prove its safety and effectiveness as an alternative bruxism treatment if other options are not successful.
Teeth grinding in children
Teeth grinding is common in many children, as their teeth and jaws are constantly developing, which can affect their bite. In most cases this is only temporary and harmless, but children may be susceptible to longer-term bruxism if:
- teething is painful
- they experience stress or anxiety
- they have certain health issues, such as an allergy, nutritional deficiency or pinworm
- they have certain medical conditions, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), cerebral palsy or endocrine disorders
Your child's dentist will advise whether treatment is needed to help prevent grinding or repair teeth damage. This may include muscle stretching exercises, a night guard or temporary crowns to protect their teeth.
Teeth grinding dentist in Brisbane
If you think that you or someone in your family might have bruxism, make an appointment with our dentists at Face Value Dental to get a professional diagnosis and discuss your treatment options.
Better Health Channel. Teeth grinding [Online] 2020 [Accessed March 2021] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/teeth-grinding
Healthdirect. Teeth grinding [Online] 2018 [Accessed March 2021] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/teeth-grinding