Bruxism is a condition in which you grind, gnash or clench your teeth. If you have bruxism, you may unconsciously clench your teeth together during the day or grind them at night, which is called sleep bruxism.
Bruxism may be mild and may not even require treatment. However, it can be frequent and severe enough to lead to jaw disorders, headaches, damaged teeth and other problems. Because you may have sleep bruxism and be unaware of it until complications develop, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of bruxism and to seek regular dental care.
Signs and symptoms of bruxism may include:
Teeth grinding or clenching, which may be loud enough to awaken your sleep partner
Teeth that are worn down, flattened, fractured or chipped
Worn tooth enamel, exposing deeper layers of your tooth
Increased tooth sensitivity
Jaw pain or tightness in your jaw muscles
Tired jaw muscles
Earache — because of severe jaw muscle contractions, not a problem with your ear
Chronic facial pain
Damage from chewing on the inside of your cheek
Indentations on your tongue
When to see a doctor
See your doctor or dentist if:
Your teeth are worn, damaged or sensitive
You have pain in your jaw, face or ear
Others complain that you make a grinding noise while you sleep
If you notice that your child is grinding his or her teeth — or has other signs or symptoms of this condition — be sure to mention it at your child’s next dentist appointment.
Doctors don’t completely understand what causes bruxism. Possible physical or psychological causes may include:
Anxiety, stress or tension
Suppressed anger or frustration
Aggressive, competitive or hyperactive personality type
Abnormal alignment of upper and lower teeth (malocclusion)
Other sleep problems
Response to pain from an earache or teething (in children)
Complication resulting from a disorder, such as Huntington’s disease or Parkinson’s disease
An uncommon side effect of some psychiatric medications, including certain antidepressants
In many cases, no treatment is necessary. Many kids outgrow bruxism without special treatment, and many adults don’t grind or clench their teeth badly enough to require therapy. However, if the problem is severe, treatment options include certain therapies and medications.
Stress management. If you grind your teeth because of stress, you may be able to prevent the problem with professional counseling or strategies that promote relaxation, such as exercise and meditation. If your child grinds his or her teeth because of tension or fear, it may help your child to talk about his or her fears just before bed or to relax with a warm bath or a favorite book.
Dental approaches. If you or your child has bruxism, your doctor may suggest a mouth guard or protective dental appliance (splint) to prevent damage to the teeth.
Splints are usually constructed of hard acrylic and fit over your upper or lower teeth. Some dentists may make them right in the office, while others may send them to a laboratory to be made.
Mouth guards are available over-the-counter and from your dentist. Your dentist can make a custom mouth guard to fit your mouth. Mouth guards are less expensive than are splints, they are softer than splints, and over time they may dislodge during teeth grinding. In addition, mouth guards may actually increase bruxism in some people.
Correcting misaligned teeth may help if your bruxism seems to be associated with dental problems. In severe cases — when tooth wear has led to sensitivity or the inability to chew properly — your dentist may need to use overlays or crowns to entirely reshape the chewing surfaces of your teeth. Reconstructive treatment can be quite extensive and although it will correct the wear, it may not stop the bruxism.
Behavior therapy. Once you discover that you have bruxism, you may be able to change the behavior by practicing proper mouth and jaw position. Concentrate on resting your tongue upward with your teeth apart and your lips closed. This should keep your teeth from grinding and your jaw from clenching. Ask your dentist to show you the best position for your mouth and jaw.
If you’re having a hard time changing your habits, you may benefit from biofeedback, a form of complementary and alternative medicine that uses a variety of monitoring procedures and equipment to teach you to control involuntary body responses.
In general, medications aren’t very effective for treatment of bruxism. In some cases, your doctor may suggest taking a muscle relaxant before bedtime. If you develop bruxism as a side effect of an antidepressant medication, your doctor may change your medication or prescribe another medication to counteract your bruxism. OnabotulinumtoxinA (Botox) injections may help some people with severe bruxism who haven’t responded to other treatments. However, more research is needed, as this treatment hasn’t been thoroughly studied.