Bruxism is the involuntary clenching, grinding and gnashing of the teeth. About half of the population does it from time to time. Around five per cent of the population are regular, forceful tooth grinders. Often it happens during sleep, but some people grind their teeth when they are awake.
Usually, a person doesn’t realise that they grind their teeth in their sleep. The partner who shares their bed (and hears the grinding noises at night) is often the first to notice the problem. Parents may also hear it in their sleeping children.
Teeth grinding can be a result of stress. For example, some people grind their teeth when they are angry, concentrating or feeling anxious.
Symptoms of teeth grinding
Signs and symptoms of bruxism include:
- grinding sounds while the person is asleep
- headache, jaw joint and/or ear pain
- aching teeth, particularly just after waking up
- aching and/or stiffness of the face and temples just after waking up
- aching or stiffness in the jaws while chewing, particularly during breakfast
- clenching the jaw when angry, anxious or concentrating
- temperature-sensitive teeth
- cracked or chipped tooth enamel
- tooth indentations on the tongue
- raised tissue on the inside of the cheek caused by biting
- loose teeth.
Effects of teeth grinding
Problems caused by tooth grinding may include:
- cracked tooth enamel
- more wear and tear on the teeth than is normal
- broken teeth or broken restorations (for example, fillings)
- strain on the jaw joint (temporo-mandibular joint)
- pain in the jaw joint or limited movement
- sore jaw muscles
- tooth loss (rare)
- enlargement of the jaw muscles (rare).
Causes of teeth grinding
Some of the many factors believed to trigger teeth grinding include:
- emotional stress, such as anger or anxiety
- mental concentration
- physical stress, such as illness, poor nutrition or long-term pain
- some dental treatments, such as fillings that sit ‘too high’
- drug use (particularly amphetamines)
- when teeth are coming through in babies and children.
Treatment for teeth grinding
If you think you grind your teeth, see your dentist or other oral health professional as soon as possible. They will look at your teeth and talk about possible treatment options that may include:
- repair of tooth damage
- fixing fillings that are too high
- a special mouthguard (‘bite splints’) to wear at night so that the guard is worn down instead of your teeth. In most cases, a bite splint will only help with the symptoms and will not stop you from grinding altogether.
Other treatments that may help to manage teeth grinding include:
- stress management therapy
- relaxation techniques
- cognitive behaviour therapy
- regular exercise
- medication that relaxes the muscles.
Things to remember
- Teeth grinding (bruxism) is an involuntary clenching and grinding of the teeth, usually during sleep.
- Causes can include stress, concentration and drug misuse.
- Treatments include mouthguards worn at night, repair of tooth damage, muscle-relaxant medication and stress management therapy.