Teeth grinding at night, known as sleep bruxism, affects roughly 13% of adults. While it is not serious, continuous clenching of the jaw while grinding can cause headaches, disruption of sleep, jaw pain, and dental health issues.
Once a patient identifies the cause of their teeth grinding, they can take the proper steps to stop it. Even if it can’t be stopped entirely, there are ways to reduce its harm and alleviate discomfort.
How to Tell if You Have Sleep Bruxism
A patient’s sleep partner is often the first person to notice teeth grinding. After all, the patient is asleep while it happens, so they are usually unaware. Even if they are feeling the symptoms of bruxism, the signs are vague enough that they could indicate any number of other issues. They may not make the connection between what they are feeling and what is going on with their jaw or teeth overnight.
Some signs that teeth are clenched or grinding at night:
- Sleep disruption. A patient might wake up multiple times overnight, conscious that their teeth were grinding. Or they might notice fatigue during the day without realizing their sleep has been interrupted.
- Headaches. Frequent dull headaches, especially when waking up, might be a sign of teeth grinding.
- Sore jaw. Clenching teeth can make the muscles around the jaw hurt. Pain can radiate into the neck and shoulders too.
- Tooth sensitivity. Constant teeth grinding can wear down or cause tiny cracks in tooth enamel. This might make teeth sore or sensitive, especially to heat and cold or while chewing.
Why Teeth Grinding Needs to Stop
In addition to the discomfort that comes from losing sleep, and the pain of headaches and muscle aches, teeth grinding can be hard on a person’s mouth. The constant chewing or clenching motion can cause damage to teeth and dental work.
When bruxism is chronic, it is possible not only to wear down tooth enamel but to crack it. This might show up as a tiny hairline crack called a craze line. Or with sufficient force, teeth grinding can completely fracture a tooth. It is also possible to break or loosen a filling or crown.
A crack or chip will need to be repaired, but until it is, it can make the tooth more susceptible to decay. A crack can allow bacteria past the enamel to form a cavity. Left untreated, this can turn into pulpitis or an abscess, requiring even more extensive dental work, such as a root canal procedure.
Bruxism can also cause or worsen TMJ, or temporomandibular joint syndrome. This is a condition affecting the joint that connects the jaw to the skull, causing pain and a popping or clicking sensation when talking or eating.
The very nature of sleep bruxism—teeth grinding while asleep—means that the patent has no idea how often it happens or how severe the problem is. Patients should see the dentist as soon as they are aware that they might be grinding their teeth. The dentist can assess the problem, discuss the possible causes, and prescribe a solution.
What Causes Teeth Grinding and Jaw Clenching?
Things that make a person grind their teeth at night typically fall into the following categories:
Dental Health Issues
Teeth grinding while asleep may lead to dental health issues, but it can also be caused by them. A malocclusion or abnormal bite might make the teeth rub together. So can a missing tooth. Once a dentist fixes these problems, the grinding may stop.
Sleep apnea and snoring can contribute to nighttime teeth grinding. A doctor or sleep specialist can perform a sleep study to determine if this is the patient’s problem. Solving the patient’s sleep issues will often take care of teeth grinding too.
Medical Conditions and Lifestyle Choices
Medical conditions such as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and some allergies can include teeth grinding as a symptom. Also, smoking and drinking alcohol can contribute to an increase in teeth grinding while asleep.
Stress and Anxiety
In a study done in September 2020, The American Dental Association reported that half of the dentists surveyed saw an increase in patient conditions related to stress. Among those conditions—bruxism. Pandemic-related tension was common in everyone’s life at the time. It is not much of a surprise that people were clenching jaws and grinding teeth in their sleep, too.
Teeth Grinding Solutions
Finding the right method to treat teeth grinding depends on what is causing it. If the habit becomes bothersome, see a dentist or your doctor. They can make an initial assessment of the likely causes and advise you on a treatment plan.
Orthodontia can fix a malocclusion. In the case of a missing tooth, the patient might need a dental bridge or implant. Aside from those fixes, there are a variety of options for bite guards and mouthguards that will keep teeth apart while sleeping. A dentist can offer advice about what type is best for the patient.
In severe cases, the dentist might recommend a procedure called reductive coronoplasty. This involves leveling off the teeth by reducing their height to correct the bite. The opposite, additive coronoplasty, adds to the height of the affected teeth using materials like those used for fillings.
As a general rule, getting a better night’s sleep can reduce teeth grinding. Staying away from caffeine and keeping a regular bedtime routine are some easy things that might help.
Patients with sleep disorders may be prescribed a dental appliance mouthguard or a CPAP machine. Either one will help open the airways during sleep and stop teeth from grinding.
Medicines to treat allergies, GERD, or any other condition might help patients sleep without grinding their teeth. Muscle relaxers might reduce jaw clenching. Botox has even been used in the hinge of the jaw to temporarily stop teeth grinding and clenching.
Anything that can be done to reduce stress and anxiety throughout the day may help a patient stop teeth grinding while asleep. Exercise is recommended, as are calming activities like yoga and meditation. Patients who feel their mental health is suffering should seek a doctor’s help. They might find relief with any number of stress-reduction techniques and treatments that are available.
Talk to Your Dentist to Stop Teeth Grinding While Asleep
Teeth grinding may seem like more of a nuisance than a medical or dental problem. But severe bruxism can lead to serious discomfort. Start by letting your dentist know your symptoms. (If you don’t have a dentist, you can use our online tool to find one near you.) Together you can come up with a plan for treatment to help you stop grinding your teeth. You won’t just start getting a good night’s sleep, you’ll be saving your teeth too.