Bruxism, commonly known as teeth grinding or jaw clenching, is a condition that affects many individuals worldwide. It typically occurs during sleep but can also happen while awake. Bruxism can lead to various symptoms that can affect oral health and overall well-being. This page will help you learn the common symptoms of bruxism to recognize this condition and seek appropriate management or treatment.
What is Bruxism?
Bruxism is the automatic and (mostly) unconscious habit of grinding or clenching your teeth. This usually happens when you’re asleep or under a lot of stress. It can cause crooked teeth, damage to the surface of the teeth, jaw pain, pain in the face, headaches, and other health problems.
People often use the terms “grinding teeth” and “clenching teeth” equally, but they are not the same thing. When you grind your teeth, they move back and forth or side to side against each other. This is often followed by clenching, which is when your top and bottom teeth press firmly against each other as if clamping something in place.
Most jaw pain and soreness come from clenching while grinding hurts your teeth and can cause them to drop. In the worst cases, the teeth get shorter, which makes the jaw muscles and temples hurt even more.
Types of Bruxism
It’s also called “awake bruxism,” and it means grinding your teeth while you’re awake, usually when you’re feeling stressed or worried.
Over 22% of the general population grind their teeth while they are awake. Children ages 3 to 10 are more likely to grind their teeth while awake, but it can also happen to adults. It gets worse during the day and can cause bruxism at night while sleeping.
Sleep bruxism, also called nocturnal bruxism, is when teeth grind and clench uncontrollably during sleep on a regular basis. It affects 12% of people of all ages, but children and teens are most likely to have it.
It is also thought that between 8 and 31% of people have sleep bruxism, which is worse in the morning right before waking up. Cases of sleep bruxism may not be recorded as often as they should be because many people don’t know they have it.
How is Bruxism Diagnosed?
One of the most common ways bruxism is found is when your sleep partner hears you chewing and grinding your teeth at night. When kids clench their teeth at night after going to bed, this is also how their parents find out they have bruxism.
During a regular dental checkup, your dentist will look at your teeth, in general, to see if there are any signs of bruxism, such as teeth that are worn down too much or have flattened tips. If there are signs and symptoms, they will keep an eye on the situation at the next appointment before starting treatment.
A dentist will look at your bite records and compare them to those from your last visit. He or she will also keep an eye on your teeth for signs of abnormal tooth wear or even tooth loss. They may also help you fill out the Bruxism Status Questionnaire (BSQ), which is their own test, or order overnight polysomnography (PSG) to find out how bad the bruxism is and measure it accurately.
If you suddenly have a sore jaw, sensitive teeth, headaches, or even trouble sleeping, you should talk to a doctor right away about bruxism so they can start an effective treatment.
Symptoms of Bruxism
Although some people with mild bruxism may not experience any noticeable or immediate symptoms, the condition can still cause serious dental problems over time.
Symptoms of bruxism may include:
Teeth grinding or clenching that is loud enough to wake up a partner or cause jaw pain
This grinding sound often occurs during sleep and can be disruptive not only for the person experiencing bruxism but also for their bed partner. The grinding noise is typically caused by the friction between the upper and lower teeth as they forcefully rub against each other.
Loose teeth or worn, chipped, flattened
One common symptom is loose teeth or teeth that feel unstable. The repetitive and excessive force applied to the teeth during bruxism can loosen them from their sockets over time. This can be a cause for concern as loose teeth can lead to tooth loss if not addressed promptly. The intense pressure exerted on the teeth can cause them to chip or break, especially if pre-existing weak spots or dental restorations such as fillings or crowns exist.
Tooth sensitivity or tooth pain
Bruxism can cause the protective layer of the teeth, called enamel, to wear down. When the enamel becomes thin or eroded, the underlying layer of dentin, which contains microscopic tubules that connect to the nerves, may become exposed. As a result, stimuli such as hot or cold temperatures, sweet or acidic foods, or even air can trigger tooth sensitivity and cause pain or discomfort.
Headaches, particularly in the temples or in a hatband shape around the head.
Bruxism-related headaches often manifest as a dull, persistent pain that radiates from the temples. The discomfort may also extend to the forehead and the back of the head or create a sensation of pressure around the head, resembling a hatband. These headaches can be intermittent or chronic, occurring during or after teeth-grinding or clenching episodes.
Jaw pain, stiffness, or discomfort
Bruxism can result in jaw pain or discomfort. The excessive force exerted on the jaw joints and muscles during grinding or clenching can lead to jaw pain, soreness, or stiffness. This pain may extend to the surrounding areas, such as the temples or the face, and can be particularly bothersome upon waking up in the morning.
Earache or pain that resembles an ear infection
Individuals with bruxism often experience earache or pain that resembles an ear infection. This symptom can be quite distressing, as it can mimic the discomfort associated with an actual ear infection, leading to confusion about the underlying cause. Consulting with a healthcare professional or an ear specialist (otolaryngologist) can help determine the precise cause of the earache and ensure appropriate treatment.
Disrupted sleep or insomnia
Bruxism-related sleep disturbances can manifest in different ways. Some individuals may find it challenging to initiate sleep due to the discomfort or noise caused by teeth grinding. The grinding sound can be loud enough to awaken the person or their sleep partner, disrupting the sleep cycle.
Moreover, the muscular activity involved in bruxism can cause frequent awakenings during the night. The grinding and clenching motions can activate the muscles and the nervous system, leading to sleep fragmentation. As a result, individuals with bruxism may experience multiple awakenings throughout the night, reducing the overall sleep duration and impairing the restorative quality of sleep.
Neck or facial pain
Bruxism can cause tension and tightness in the muscles of the jaw, face, and neck. The constant grinding and clenching motions can overwork these muscles, leading to muscle fatigue, soreness, and pain. This pain may be localized in specific areas, such as the jaw joints (temporomandibular joints or TMJs), temples, cheeks, or along the sides and back of the neck.
Treatments for Bruxism
Don’t let your teeth grinding, clenching, and other symptoms of bruxism go untreated. Even mild bruxism can negatively impact your health in the long run, so it is important to address it. The right treatment can reduce pain and damage and improve your overall health and well-being.
Here are some of the most common bruxism treatments, and remember to always consult first with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.
- Mouth Guards – Oral appliances are used to keep teeth apart in order to prevent damage from clenching and grinding.
- Muscle Relaxants – In some circumstances, your doctor might advise using a muscle relaxant for a little time before bed.
- Stress Management – You can relax and lower your risk of bruxism by doing things like listening to music, taking a warm bath, or engaging in physical activity.
- Improve sleep – Getting a full night’s rest, which may involve seeking therapy for sleep issues, has been shown to have a positive effect on bruxism.
- Dental Adjustments – Your dentist might need to modify the chewing surfaces or use crowns for your teeth to correct the damage in severe situations where tooth wear has resulted in discomfort or the inability to chew effectively.
Don't Ignore Bruxism Symptoms
Bruxism can be a complex condition involving a multifaceted approach to your health, including night guards, medication, and maybe even therapy. Sometimes it only involved slight adjustments in your nightly habits or a jaw massage. But whatever the case might be, if you or your loved one have any signs or symptoms of bruxism, quickly make an appointment with your dentist or healthcare provider to get a diagnosis, stop any complications from worsening, and start treatment and prevention to improve both your dental and overall health.
When Should You See a Doctor about Bruxism?
Since you’re unconscious when you do it, sleep bruxism can exacerbate existing dental issues. The teeth, jaw muscles, and jaw joints can all suffer from chronic tooth grinding that goes untreated, which can cause facial pain. If you wake up with a headache or jaw pain, you should be checked out by a doctor.
Who is at Risk for Bruxism?
The risk factor of bruxism may be increased by using recreational drugs, drinking alcohol or caffeine-containing beverages, smoking cigarettes, or genetic factors. Also, people that have a family clinical history with a tendency to bruxism are at risk.
Can bruxism be a result of stress or anxiety?
Yes, stress and anxiety can be contributing factors to bruxism. Emotional stress, anxiety, or tension can lead to increased muscle activity, including grinding and clenching of the teeth. Bruxism can serve as a subconscious response to stress, and managing stress through relaxation techniques or seeking appropriate support may help reduce bruxism episodes.