Teeth grinding and jaw clenching (also called bruxism) is often related to stress or anxiety.
It does not 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 are not aware they’re doing it.
It often happens during sleep, or while concentrating or under stress.
Symptoms of teeth grinding
Symptoms of teeth grinding include:
- facial pain
- 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 happens in severe cases and may need treatment.
When to see a dentist or GP
See a 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
The 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 a GP if your teeth grinding is related to stress. 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.
What causes teeth grinding?
The cause of teeth grinding is not 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 are not aware they do it. It often happens during sleep.
Teeth grinding can sometimes be a side effect of taking certain types of medicine.
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.
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
- have hallucinations, where you see or hear things that are not real, while semi-conscious
Other factors that can make teeth grinding more likely, or make it worse, include:
- drinking alcohol
- using recreational drugs, such as ecstasy and cocaine
- having lots of caffeinated drinks, such as tea or coffee (6 or more cups a day)
Teeth grinding in children
Teeth grinding can also affect children. It tends to happen after their baby teeth or adult teeth first appear, but usually stops after the adult teeth are fully formed.
See a GP if you’re concerned about your child’s teeth grinding, particularly if it’s affecting their sleep.
Treatment-Teeth grinding (bruxism)
Treatments for teeth grinding (bruxism) include using mouth guards or mouth splints, and therapy.
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 a dentist to fit your mouth. You can also buy a mouth guard from a 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. But 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 recommended and how it’s made. Ask the dentist about the available options 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:
- deep breathing
- 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. But 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 program or self-help book. A 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 can be 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’s often expensive.
Read more about dental treatments.
Medicine is not 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.
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 antidepressants, your GP may suggest changing your medicine. Never stop taking medicine that’s been prescribed for you without consulting your GP first.
Self-help for teeth grinding
To help prevent teeth grinding:
- cut back on alcohol because it can make teeth grinding while you’re asleep worse
- give up smoking
- avoid using recreational drugs, such as ecstasy and cocaine
- Previous:Teeth grinding (bruxism)
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