Surprising Health Problems Associated with Nocturnal Teeth Grinding

Sleep bruxism, or teeth grinding during sleep, is a prevalent and potentially serious condition known to cause dental issues. Even people who don’t know the term bruxism know that clenching and smashing your teeth and jaw together can’t be good for you in the long run. However, recent studies have revealed that the health implications of sleep bruxism extend beyond oral health as well. Notably, individuals with sleep bruxism are more likely to experience a wide range of health problems, from headaches to jaw disorders that can lead to limited mouth movement. Many would indeed be surprised to know that bruxism at night can even contribute to the development of sleep apnea and other sleeping disorders. Join us as we go over these complications and surprising health problems.

What is Nighttime Bruxism?

Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, is a condition characterized by the involuntary grinding or clenching of the teeth. The two main forms of bruxism are awake bruxism and sleep or nighttime bruxism. One of the key factors in diagnosing bruxism is the presence of symptoms and signs associated with this condition. Common symptoms of teeth grinding include jaw pain, tooth sensitivity, headaches, and worn-down teeth. Awake bruxism is the most common form of the condition, although sleep bruxism is the most seen among children and is considered to be underreported in many adults because of its nature—too many people just don’t realize they have it until the symptoms get too noticeable because they’re unconscious during it. On top of that, the problem seems to be getting worse after the pandemic. A 2021 survey done by the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute revealed that more than 70% of dentists found signs of teeth grinding and clenching in their patients, which is up nearly 10% from the year before 2020.

Symptoms and Signs of Teeth Grinding

Jaw muscle discomfort, headaches, and tooth sensitivity are common symptoms and signs of sleep bruxism. Understanding the symptoms and signs of teeth grinding can help individuals seek appropriate treatment and prevent further complications. There are three main ways to classify the impact of teeth grinding through its symptoms:
  • Physical discomfort: Jaw pain and muscle discomfort are typical symptoms of sleep-related bruxism. These symptoms can range from mild to severe, affecting daily activities and overall quality of life.
  • Headaches: Chronic headaches are often associated with teeth grinding. The constant grinding and clenching of teeth can strain the muscles in the head and neck, leading to recurring tension-type headaches.
  • Tooth damage: The excessive pressure exerted during grinding can cause tooth sensitivity and even fractures. This can result in the need for costly dental treatments and potentially impact oral health.
Not every case has the same symptoms, and some people with the condition might not even have any noticeable signs at all for quite some time, which is why regular visits to the dentist is important. Regular checks on your dental health will likely pick up any signs of bruxism before they get too serious.

Risk Factors for Teeth Grinding During Sleep

There are several risk factors for teeth grinding during sleep, and like its symptoms, they vary from patient to patient and are frequently not limited to just one. Overall, we can group them into problems with stress and anxiety, certain medications, and sleeping disorders. Understanding these risk factors can help us take preventive measures and seek appropriate treatment to protect our dental health and overall well-being.

Stress & Anxiety

Stress and anxiety have been identified as potential contributing factors to the development and exacerbation of sleep bruxism. Stress and anxiety in certain individuals can trigger the onset of sleep bruxism by increasing muscle tension in the jaw and facial muscles, making them more prone to clenching or grinding at night while sleeping. Sleep bruxism can also lead to tension headaches, as the constant grinding and clenching put a strain on the muscles of the head and neck. Two lifestyle choices that worsen stress and anxiety, and thus can lead to sleep bruxism, are alcohol and tobacco use. One 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association found that those who drank, ate, or took substances like alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine were almost two times more likely to develop sleep bruxism than those who didn’t.

Genetics & Family History

Studies have shown that individuals with a family history of sleep bruxism are likelier to develop the condition. Genetic factors can contribute to the increased sensitivity of the central nervous system, leading to an elevated response to stress and anxiety, which we just established are known triggers for bruxism. Genetic variations can affect the structure and function of the temporomandibular joint and the muscles involved in chewing too, further predisposing individuals to nocturnal teeth grinding. Understanding the genetic and familial influences on sleep bruxism can aid in early detection and intervention, potentially preventing or minimizing the associated health problems.


Medications such as certain antidepressants, antipsychotics, and antiepileptic drugs have been identified as potential contributors to developing or exacerbating sleep bruxism. These medications, which are commonly prescribed to individuals with mental health conditions or seizures, can affect the muscles and jaw joints, leading to bruxism. The effects of these medications on bruxism can vary, but they may include increased muscle activity while sleeping, clenching of the jaw, and teeth grinding. The resulting excessive forces exerted on the teeth can cause dental and jaw joint pain and damage. It is important for your healthcare provider to consider the potential side effects of medications when evaluating patients with bruxism, as adjusting or changing the medication regimen may help alleviate the symptoms.

Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia, have been found to be commonly associated with sleep-related bruxism. Several sleep studies conducted by researchers have shown a significant correlation between sleep bruxism and sleep disorders. Individuals with sleep apnea, characterized by breathing pauses while sleeping, are more prone to teeth grinding. There is also insomnia, a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep or getting constant arousals from sleep has also been linked to sleep-related bruxism because people who can’t get enough rest or have poor sleep hygiene tend to suffer more from chronic stress and anxiety. The exact mechanisms underlying this association are not fully understood, but for example, it is believed that the activation of certain muscles during sleep, such as the jaw muscles, may contribute to both sleep disorders and teeth grinding. Further research is needed to better understand the relationship between sleeping disorders and bruxism and to develop effective treatment strategies.

Complications from Grinding Teeth at Night

Moving on to the serious, and many times unknown, complications that can arise from grinding teeth at night. While the health problems are varied, they mostly all can be traced to jaw issues, facial muscle complications, and severe dental problems.

Jaw Issues and TMJ

Constantly clenching the jaw at night creates intense jaw tension, and the consequence can lead to conditions that might even require surgery. These problems include temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, which is very common among individuals with sleep bruxism but is also a separate condition on its own. TMJ disorder frequently includes pain, soreness, and problems with opening and closing the mouth. Taking steps to address sleep bruxism, such as using a mouth guard or seeking dental treatment, can help alleviate these jaw-related issues and improve overall oral health.

Misaligned Bite

The next surprising health problem related to nocturnal teeth grinding is a misaligned bite. When individuals consistently grind their teeth during sleep, it can lead to an improper alignment of the upper and lower teeth. This misalignment, also known as malocclusion, can have various negative consequences on oral health and overall well-being. Malocclusion can cause difficulties in speaking and chewing, affecting individuals’ ability to enjoy meals and communicate effectively. It can also lead to excessive tooth wear, enamel erosion, and tooth sensitivity, increasing the risk of tooth decay and dental complications. Moreover, a misaligned bite can contribute to jaw pain, temporomandibular joint disorders, and even facial muscle asymmetry, affecting individuals’ quality of life. Understanding the potential health problems associated with a misaligned bite can help individuals seek appropriate dental care and address these issues promptly.

Facial Muscle Soreness & Pain

Facial muscle soreness and facial pain are common symptoms experienced by individuals with sleep bruxism, resulting from the strain exerted on the muscles and joints of the face. Individuals with sleep bruxism may also experience tension-type headaches, earaches, and neck pain. It is important to address these symptoms promptly to prevent further complications and to improve overall well-being. Seeking professional help, such as a dentist or sleep specialist, can provide effective treatment options and alleviate the discomfort associated with facial muscle soreness and pain caused by sleep bruxism.

Tooth Damage & Severe Tooth Wear

During episodes of sleep bruxism, excessive grinding and clenching can lead to damaged teeth and severe tooth pain. This can have a significant impact on oral health and overall well-being. Examples of the impact include:
  • Cracked or chipped teeth
  • Loose teeth
  • Increased risk of tooth decay from cavities

Tooth Sensitivity

Suffering from sensitive teeth is a common consequence of sleep-related bruxism, characterized by heightened discomfort or pain in response to hot, cold, or sweet stimuli. Treatment options for tooth sensitivity caused by bruxism include using desensitizing toothpaste, applying fluoride varnishes, and using mouth guards to protect the teeth from further damage. Addressing the underlying issues of bruxism, such as stress management and reducing caffeine intake, can also help alleviate tooth sensitivity.

Problems Eating

This is probably one of the least contemplated but most serious effects from teeth grinding. Sleep bruxism can damage the jaw joints, which in turn complicates the opening and closing of the mouth, even for simple tasks like chewing and talking, taking a condition that started only as a sore jaw to something more critical. Without the ability to chew food properly, it gets harder for the digestive system to extract nutrients effectively. This can result in nutrient deficiencies and overall poor digestion. And problems with the jaw joints aren’t the only reason why eating can be complicated because of sleep bruxism. As mentioned before, bruxism patients can also suffer from tooth sensitivity and an altered bite. Over time, this can result in broken teeth, crooked teeth, and even enamel damage, making it difficult for anyone suffering from bruxism to eat healthily. Recognizing the signs of bruxism early on and seeking appropriate treatment can help alleviate these eating-related issues and improve overall health.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are a common symptom experienced by individuals with sleep bruxism. They are often characterized by a dull, persistent pain in the head that can be exacerbated by stress and tension in the jaw muscles. These dull headaches can be particularly troublesome as they can significantly affect individuals’ quality of life. They cause discomfort and impair daily activities. Implementing strategies to manage stress and tension, such as relaxation techniques or jaw exercises, may also be beneficial in reducing the occurrence and severity of tension headaches.

Sleep Disorders

Sleeping disorders like obstructive sleep apnea can be more than just a risk factor for bruxism; they can also be seen as consequences of this condition. Bruxism, or the unconscious grinding or clenching of teeth at night, puts excessive pressure on the jaw and surrounding muscles. This constant strain can lead to the development of sleep apnea. The repetitive grinding motions can affect the alignment of the jaw, causing it to become misaligned and potentially obstructing the air passage. This can result in symptoms such as loud snoring, gasping for air, and fragmented sleep patterns. Therefore, addressing bruxism is essential not only to prevent dental damage but also to alleviate the risk of sleep apnea, improving overall sleep hygiene and reducing associated health risks.

Diagnosing Nighttime Teeth Grinding

A sleep study, known as polysomnography, is a diagnostic tool for evaluating sleep disorders. It involves monitoring various physiological signals at night while sleeping, such as brain activity, eye movements, muscle tone, and breathing patterns.

Sleep Study (Polysomnography)

Polysomnography, a widely used diagnostic tool in sleep medicine, can provide valuable insights into the physiological aspects of sleep bruxism. This comprehensive sleep study involves monitoring various parameters during sleep, including brain activity, eye movements, the activity of muscles during sleep, heart rate, and respiratory function. By analyzing these parameters, polysomnography can aid in diagnosing and understanding sleep-related bruxism or other disorders like obstructive sleep apnea. Polysomnography allows for the identification of the frequency and intensity of teeth-grinding episodes, providing quantitative data on the severity of the condition. By analyzing breathing patterns and oxygen levels, it can help determine if your bruxism is related to other sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea. Polysomnography also enables the evaluation of the impact of bruxism on sleep quality, helping healthcare professionals develop appropriate treatment strategies.

Treatment for Teeth Grinding at Night

Non-invasive or natural options, as well as the use of night guards and mouth guards, are commonly recommended treatments for teeth grinding at night. Non-invasive or natural options may include stress management techniques, relaxation exercises, and behavior therapy.

Non-Invasive or Natural Options

Various alternative approaches have been explored as potential remedies for nocturnal teeth grinding. These non-invasive or natural options aim to provide relief for individuals suffering from this condition without resorting first to invasive procedures or medications or as complementary to mouth guards for teeth grinding. Examples of these treatments include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • Behavioral interventions
  • Encouraging good sleep hygiene
  • Stress management techniques
  • Relaxation exercises
These non-invasive or natural options offer potential solutions to nocturnal teeth grinding, catering to individuals who prefer a holistic approach to their health. By addressing the underlying causes and promoting relaxation, these approaches aim to serve those seeking alternative remedies while considering their overall well-being.

Night Guards and Mouth Guards for Teeth Grinding

Night guards and mouth guards are commonly recommended by dental professionals as a protective measure against the detrimental effects of excessive forces exerted during sleep bruxism, such as tooth wear, tooth fractures, and temporomandibular joint disorders. Night guards and mouth guards work by providing a cushioning effect, reducing the impact of the grinding or clenching forces on the teeth and jaw. They are typically made of soft or hard materials and are custom-fitted to the individual’s mouth. These protective devices help prevent dental damage and alleviate associated symptoms, such as jaw pain and headaches. There are several types of guards, depending on the patient and how severe the intensity of bruxism is in each case. There are custom-fit night guards, mandibular advancement devices, splits, tongue-retaining devices, etc. Dental professionals are crucial in recommending and providing night guards and mouth guards to individuals suffering from sleep-related bruxism, ensuring their oral health and well-being.

Don’t Let Teeth Grinding or Bruxism at Night Go Untreated

These findings emphasize the importance of addressing sleep bruxism for overall well-being. Identifying risk factors and diagnosing nighttime teeth grinding is crucial in order to provide appropriate treatment and prevent complications. By understanding the surprising health problems associated with nocturnal teeth grinding, healthcare professionals can better support patients in managing this condition.
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