Why does teeth grinding happen? (and how to stop it)

Medically Reviewed by a
Licensed DDS

Table of Contents

  1. Teeth Grinding Causes
  2. Treatment Options
  3. How to Stop Grinding
  4. Orthodontic Treatment
  5. References

Grinding your teeth is a problem that can cause long-term health issues. Many people are unaware that they have this condition. Because of this, it’s important to get a diagnosis of bruxism from your dentist or doctor to prevent tooth and jaw damage.

If you grind your teeth, it may happen during the day while you are awake because of stress or an underlying health problem. Many people also have sleep bruxism, which they cannot control.

While there are some overlapping triggers behind daytime and nighttime bruxism, most of the causes are different. This means daytime bruxism and nighttime bruxism often require different medical treatments.

Pain in your jaw, head, neck, and ears is one of the most common signs of bruxism. Enlarged jaw muscles, misaligned or broken teeth, snoring, and gum infections are additional signs.

What causes teeth grinding?

There is no one specific cause of bruxism, or teeth grinding. Instead, several factors can come together and increase your risk of bruxism.

Some of the potential contributing factors include:

  • How much stress you have in your life, including how hard you concentrate, how intense your workload is, and how stressful your home life is.
  • How long you clench your teeth.
  • Teeth misalignment. If you cannot close your jaw completely or it is pushed to one side, this can lead to muscle stress.
  • Your posture, which can change how well you breathe and how tensed the muscles in your neck and back are.
  • Your body weight, diet, and exercise routine.
  • High blood pressure or cholesterol. This can increase your heart rate, make you feel more physically stressed out, and lead to clenching or grinding your teeth.
  • Your sleeping habits, especially if they are irregular.
  • Drinking too much alcohol or smoking cigarettes.
  • Mental and behavioral health conditions.
  • Underlying neurological conditions.

Health problems caused by bruxism can also make the problem of teeth grinding worse.

  • Tense muscles in your neck and jaw can amplify stress and therefore increase grinding.
  • Grinding can cause damage to teeth, leading to misalignment, the need for tooth removal, and pain from infection. These all increase the risk of grinding.
  • Gum recession and loose teeth increase your risk of infection, which causes pain and stress on jaw muscles.
  • Loss of tooth structure can cause teeth to become infected or necessitate removal, which can misalign your bite and increase your risk of clenching or grinding.
  • Sensitivity to hot or cold foods, sensitivity to sweet foods, or other sensations in the mouth can increase jaw muscle tension.
  • Damage to the bone structure of your temporomandibular joint can cause temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ), a tensing of the muscles in your jaw that leads to intense pain and tooth damage.

You may notice that you clench your jaw at certain times of day or in reaction to certain situations, which may be associated with stress. You may notice headaches or other pain when you wake up in the morning, which may indicate you have sleep bruxism. Depending on whether teeth grinding happens at night or during the day, you may require a different treatment plan.

About 8 percent of American adults have bruxism of some type. Even though the underlying causes of the condition are not fully known, it can be effectively treated.

Different treatments for daytime vs. nighttime teeth grinding.

If you grind your teeth, you need a treatment plan to prevent breaking your teeth, putting high stress on your jaw, or causing other damage to your gums or teeth that can cause infection. Depending on when you grind your teeth, you may need different approaches to managing or treating the problem.

Daytime Bruxism

If you clench or grind your teeth during the day, one of the best ways to manage this problem is with behavioral therapy. You can learn how to notice when you clench or grind your teeth as well as how to place them in proper, healthy alignment.

You can also learn coping mechanisms for stress. These include ways to manage stress with antidepressants, exercise, diet, and other behavioral treatments.

Nighttime or Sleep Bruxism

Sleep apnea, drinking too much alcohol, or throat or facial deformities can contribute to grinding your teeth at night, so working with a doctor to manage these conditions can ease this pain.

Your dentist may have you wear a plastic or polyurethane mouthguard at night, to keep your teeth from grinding into each other. This is a temporary situation and will not totally ease pressure on your jaw.

How to stop grinding.

There are some lifestyle changes you can make alongside medical treatments. These support your overall health, so many people reduce their stress, bolster their immune system, and generally feel better after making these changes.

  • Avoid chewing gum, which can strain the jaw muscles and clench them further.
  • Stay away from denser or chewier foods, such as almonds, well-done steak, or hard candies.
  • Eat healthy foods, such as lean proteins, dark green vegetables, fibrous fruits like oranges, and whole grains.
  • Stay hydrated, especially if you have a condition like dry mouth.
  • Get enough sleep by practicing good sleep hygiene.
  • Exercise regularly to maintain a healthy body weight and good circulation. This can also help to reduce your stress.
  • Try breathing exercises, mindfulness, or meditation to ease stress.
  • Get up and stretch regularly — at least once per hour if you have a desk job.

Lifestyle changes can manage symptoms of bruxism and promote overall health. If you have moderate or severe bruxism, these changes may not be enough. You will likely need to take additional steps for your health, including getting a medical diagnosis and following a professional treatment plan.

Other approaches may be recommended and managed by your doctor or dentist.

  • Wear a mouthguard at night.
  • Take prescriptions like antidepressants to manage anxiety and depression.
  • Get other mental health treatments, like talk therapy, as needed.
  • Attend behavioral therapy.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Learn physical therapy stretches to relax your face, jaw, head, and neck.
  • Get regular medical and dental checkups.

Orthodontic treatment to stop teeth grinding.

One of the common causes of grinding teeth is misalignment. Even if your teeth appear straight, a misalignment in your jaw, back teeth, or tongue placement can make grinding worse.

As your work with your dentist, you may have orthodontic treatment recommended to you. Invisible plastic or polyurethane aligners have become a popular form of orthodontic treatment, and you may be able to use this course of treatment to align your teeth and lessen your teeth grinding.

These plastic or polyurethane retainers or aligners are not the same as mouthguards. Instead, you will wear these aligners around the clock, taking them out only to eat and care for your teeth. This means you’ll also be wearing them at night instead of a nightguard.

This course of orthodontic treatment can help you to stop or reduce teeth grinding long term, as it changes the alignment of your teeth. Straightening the position of your teeth in this way can reduce the chances of infection, broken teeth, and jaw pain risks.

Your dentist may also reshape your teeth with reconstructive dental treatments, overlays or inlays, veneers, crowns, or even dental implants or false teeth. These not only make your smile look beautiful, but they can also provide stability and support for your teeth and jaw, reducing stress from misalignments.

References.

Bruxism. (February 2018). U.S. National Library of Medicine.

What Is Bruxism, or Teeth Grinding? (March 2017). Medical News Today.

What Is Teeth Grinding? (February 2020). MedicineNet.

Treatment: Teeth Grinding (Bruxism). (May 2017). National Health Service.

Current Treatments of Bruxism. (February 2016). Current Treatment Options in Neurology.

Teeth Grinding: Is Emotional Stability Related to Bruxism? (June 2010). Journal of Research in Personality.

Three Reasons People Grind Their Teeth. National Sleep Foundation.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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