Stop the Grind: Beating Bruxism

Bruxism is the medical term for unconsciously grinding your teeth. The grinding occurs while your jaw moves forcefully back and forth or from side to side. You can suffer from the condition during the day (awake bruxism) or while you sleep (sleep bruxism).

Sleep bruxism is considered a sleep disorder and is often coupled with similar disorders such as sleep apnea or snoring. Awake bruxism is often caused by stress, anxiety, frustration or anger.

Many children have mild bruxism, which is usually outgrown and needs no treatment. If your child’s teeth grinding seems more severe or continues into the late teen years, consult your dentist.

Symptoms and complications

Left untreated, severe bruxism can lead to jaw pain, headaches, or permanent damage to your teeth or dental restorations. It’s time to speak to a dentist when you experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Teeth grinding that’s loud enough to wake you or your partner from sleep
  • Teeth that are flattened, fractured, chipped or loose
  • Teeth that have worn to the point where lower layers of enamel are visible
  • Tired or tight jaw muscles, or a locked jaw that won’t open or close completely
  • Aching pain in and around your ear
  • Increased tooth sensitivity or pain in the jaw, neck, face or ear

Diagnosis and treatment

To confirm that you have bruxism that requires treatment, your dentist will likely evaluate the condition of your teeth, mouth and jaw muscles over the course of several visits, checking for signs of increasing damage or muscle tenderness.

If you’re diagnosed with severe bruxism, several treatment options are available. They can be divided into four categories:

Behavioral: Grinding or clenching caused by stress or anxiety can often be alleviated through relaxation techniques or behavioral training. Severe anxiety may require sessions with a therapist. Avoiding excessive alcohol and caffeine intake may reduce bruxism symptoms.

Dental: Mouth guards can be designed and manufactured to keep your teeth separated and avoid further damage (bulky sports mouth guards aren’t recommended). If too much damage has already occurred, your dentist may need to repair your teeth with crowns or other restorations.

Medications: Taking a pharmaceutical approach to bruxism is usually a last resort. Some patients respond well to the use of muscle relaxants or anti-depressants.

Physical therapy: PT and targeted exercises can help reduce daytime clenching or grinding of teeth.

In addition, treating sleep apnea (if present) can reduce symptoms of bruxism.