Teeth Grinding

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Introduction

Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)

Teeth grinding and jaw clenching (also called bruxism) is often related to stress or anxiety.

It doesn't always cause symptoms but some people get facial pain and headaches, and it can wear down your teeth over time.

Most people who grind their teeth and clench their jaw aren't aware they're doing it. It often happens during sleep or while concentrating or under stress.

This page covers:

Symptoms

When to get help

Treatment

Causes

Symptoms of teeth grinding

Symptoms of teeth grinding include:

  • facial pain
  • headaches
  • earache
  • pain and stiffness in the jaw joint (temporomandibular joint) and surrounding muscles, which can lead to temporomandibular disorder (TMD)
  • disrupted sleep (for you or your partner) 
  • worn-down teeth, which can lead to increased sensitivity and even tooth loss
  • broken teeth or fillings

Facial pain and headaches often disappear when you stop grinding your teeth. Tooth damage usually only occurs in severe cases and may need treatment.

When to see your dentist and GP

See your dentist if:

  • your teeth are worn, damaged or sensitive
  • your jaw, face or ear is painful 
  • your partner says you make a grinding sound in your sleep

Your dentist will check your teeth and jaw for signs of teeth grinding.

You may need dental treatment if your teeth are worn through grinding to avoid developing further problems, such as infection or a dental abscess.

See your GP if your teeth grinding is stress-related. They'll be able to recommend ways to help manage your stress.

Treating teeth grinding

There are a number of treatments for teeth grinding.

Using a mouth guard or mouth splint reduces the sensation of clenching or grinding your teeth. They also help reduce pain and prevent tooth wear, as well as protecting against further damage.

Other treatments include muscle-relaxation exercises and sleep hygiene.

If you have stress or anxiety, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may be recommended.

Read more about treating teeth grinding.

What causes teeth grinding?

The cause of teeth grinding isn't always clear, but it's usually linked to other factors, such as stress, anxiety or sleep problems.

Stress and anxiety

Teeth grinding is most often caused by stress or anxiety and many people aren't aware they do it. It often happens during sleep. 

Medication

Teeth grinding can sometimes be a side effect of taking certain types of medication.

In particular, teeth grinding is sometimes linked to a type of antidepressant known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Examples of SSRIs include paroxetine, fluoxetine and sertraline.

Sleep disorders

If you snore or have a sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), you're more likely to grind your teeth while you sleep. OSA interrupts your breathing while you sleep.

You're also more likely to grind your teeth if you:

  • talk or mumble while asleep
  • behave violently while asleep, such as kicking out or punching
  • have sleep paralysis (a temporary inability to move or speak while waking up or falling asleep)
  • experience hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren't real) while semi-conscious

Lifestyle

Other factors that can make you more likely to grind your teeth or make it worse include:

  • drinking alcohol
  • smoking
  • using recreational drugs, such as ecstasy and cocaine
  • having lots of caffeinated drinks, such as tea or coffee (six or more cups a day)

Treatment

Treatment

Treatments for teeth grinding (bruxism) include using mouth guards or mouth splints and therapy.

This page covers:

Mouth guards and mouth splints

Treating stress and anxiety

Breaking the habit

Treating and preventing dental problems

Medication

Self-help for teeth grinding

Mouth guards and mouth splints

If you grind your teeth while you're asleep, it may help to wear a mouth guard or mouth splint at night.

Mouth guards and splints even out the pressure across your jaw and create a physical barrier between your upper and lower teeth to protect them from further damage. They can also reduce any grinding noises you make at night.

Mouth guards are similar to those used in sports such as boxing or rugby. They're rubber or plastic and can be made by your dentist to fit your mouth. You can also buy a mouth guard from your local pharmacist, but it's unlikely to fit as well as a custom-made one.

A mouth splint is made from harder plastic and fits precisely over your upper or lower teeth. They're no more effective than mouth guards in reducing the symptoms of teeth grinding. However, they're more expensive as they last for several years, whereas mouth guards usually only last for less than a year.

You'll usually have to pay for a custom-made dental appliance. It's often a band 3 treatment, but may be more expensive, depending on the type of appliance recommended and how it's made. Ask your dentist about the options available to you and how much they cost.

Treating stress and anxiety

If the underlying cause of your teeth grinding is stress or anxiety,  psychological treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), may help.

If your teeth grinding is stress-related, it's important to try to relax and get a good night's sleep. There are a number of things you can try to help you wind down before you go to bed, including:

  • yoga 
  • deep breathing
  • massage
  • reading
  • having a bath
  • listening to music

Read more about how to get a good night's sleep.

Breaking the habit

Habit-reversal techniques are designed to break your teeth grinding habit. However, there's no scientific evidence to suggest that using habit-reversal techniques will cure teeth grinding.

If you're awake when you grind your teeth you might find it useful to record how often you grind your teeth each day. You can then work out when you're more likely to do it and why - for example, when you're concentrating or stressed.

If you're aware of your habit it will be easier to break. To break the habit, you could train yourself to relax your jaw when you feel yourself grinding or clenching. For example, you could open your jaw slightly or gently place your tongue between your upper and lower teeth.

Habit-reversal techniques may be used by a specially trained therapist, or you can try them yourself using a computer programme or self-help book. Your GP will be able to advise you.

Treating and preventing dental problems

You should have regular dental check-ups so that any problems caused by your teeth grinding are treated as soon as possible to prevent further damage.

Dental problems, such as misaligned, cracked, crooked or missing teeth, can usually be treated with reconstructive dental treatments, such as false teeth, overlays and crowns.

These treatments can sometimes reshape the chewing surface of your teeth and stop you grinding. You'll usually have to pay for this type of dental treatment and it can often be expensive.

Read more about dental treatments.

Find a dentist.

Medication

Medication isn't usually used to treat teeth grinding. But non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may help relieve any pain or swelling around your jaw caused by grinding.

In some cases, your GP may suggest taking a muscle relaxant before you go to bed to help relieve your symptoms.

If your teeth grinding is a side effect of taking antidepressant medication, your GP may suggest changing your medication. Never stop taking medication that's been prescribed for you without consulting your GP first.

Self-help for teeth grinding

To help prevent teeth grinding: