Bruxism: What Grinding Your Teeth Says About Your Health

Bruxism is a condition in which people gnash, grind or clench their teeth. When someone has bruxism, they may unconsciously clench their teeth while awake. More commonly, however, people develop night bruxism, where they clench or grind their teeth while sleeping. Unfortunately, this can lead to serious problems affecting the teeth and jaw joints.

Why Bruxism is a Problem

Anytime you clench or grind your teeth, you are putting needless wear and tear on your teeth, while also straining your jaw joint, muscles and ligaments. When you clench your jaw or grind your teeth while sleeping, you put an incredible amount of stress on your temporomandibular joint. Since you aren’t aware of your actions, you may clench two to three times harder than you would while awake. What’s more, with sleep bruxism, your teeth receive the maximum force of your jaws without any sort of buffer from food. 

Long-term grinding can lead to several problems, including: 

  • Damage to teeth, jaw, crowns or restorations
  • Tension headaches
  • Severe jaw or facial pain
  • TMJ disorder that causes pain and clicking when you open and close your jaw

In general, because it causes headaches, lingering facial pain, frustration and sleep disruptions, bruxism can impact your mental and physical health in a variety of different ways.

Signs of Bruxism

People with bruxism will typically experience one or more of the following: 

  • Sleep disruptions that impact their physical and mental well-being
  • Teeth clenching or grinding, which may awaken a partner
  • Fractured, flattened loose, or chipped teeth
  • Worn enamel on the surface of teeth
  • Tooth sensitivity or pain
  • Tight or tired jaw muscles
  • A locked jaw that won’t close or open completely
  • Face, neck or jaw soreness
  • Vague discomfort that feels like an earache
  • Dull headache beginning in the temples
  • Damage from biting the inside of the cheek

Causes of Bruxism

While the exact cause of bruxism isn’t known, The Mayo Clinic points out some common risk factors, including: 

  • Stress, anger, frustration
  • Youth (Bruxism is common in children but usually gets better as they age)
  • Aggressive, hyperactive or competitive personalities
  • Antidepressants, psychiatric medications, alcohol, caffeine and tobacco
  • Inherited genetic traits
  • Parkinson’s disease, dementia, GERD, epilepsy ADHD 

The Bruxism Association also reports that sleep apnea can be an underlying cause of bruxism.

Getting Help

If you believe you suffer from bruxism, talk to your local dentist about potential treatment options. In many instances, splints, mouthguards and strategic dental corrections can help solve the problem. If necessary, your dentist can recommend a sleep medicine specialist. He or she can also help correct dental issues that occur as a result of your clenching and grinding.