Teeth Grinding: Causes, Consequences, & Treatments

A man with toothache, periodontal disease in wisdom teeth

Much like chalk scraping on a chalkboard, something is jarring when you hear teeth grinding. The crunching, gnashing, squeaking noises. Gives you goosebumps thinking about it, huh? Often, though, those who grind their teeth do so unknowingly. Whether clenching during the day or at night, grinding your teeth can cause painful issues.

So, what’s teeth grinding?

Bruxism is the technical term for chronic grinding, clenching, or gnashing of teeth. And it’s common in both adults and children. Often, though, the teeth-grinding behavior with children is outgrown and doesn’t lead to long-term damage.

Bruxism can occur when you’re awake or asleep. If it happens during the day, it is usually tied to feeling anxious, angry, or stressed. Nighttime grinding is sometimes related to sleep apnea and acid reflux. Also, smoking, excessive amounts of caffeine and alcohol, and illicit drugs can increase teeth grinding.

What are the symptoms of teeth grinding?

Chronic teeth grinding can lead to tooth sensitivity as well as dental and physical health problems if left untreated. Excessive tooth grinding can put added force on the jaw joint or muscles, leading to temporomandibular joint (TMJ/TMD) disorders. This is a group of conditions affecting the joint or chewing muscles. Other causes and signs you grind your teeth include:

  • Headaches
  • Facial and jaw soreness
  • Earaches
  • Painful, misaligned, or loose teeth
  • Chipped or fractured teeth
  • Tooth erosion
  • Gum recession

How can you stop grinding your teeth?

During regular dental exams, we will check for signs of bruxism. We will ask about your general dental health, daily routine, sleep patterns, and medications as well as look for the typical signs of teeth grinding, such as:

  • Tender jaw muscles
  • Ground, broken, or other obvious teeth abnormalities
  • Damage to the bone (observed through an x-ray)
  • Gum recession or tooth erosion

Once these are brought to your attention, you may be able to break the habit. If the problem persists or is severe enough, there are several approaches to treat teeth grinding.

  • Nightguards – Made from soft plastic or rubber, nightguards fit over your teeth (generally the upper teeth) to protect your teeth and gums. These absorb rubbing/biting forces and are often worn during the night.
  • Bite splints – These thin, hard or soft acrylic bite guards hold your teeth together and work to position the teeth and jaws. They are prescribed to someone with a TMJ diagnosis.
  • Dental corrections – If enough damage has been caused to your teeth, you may need crowns to reshape the biting surfaces of your teeth.
  • Alignment correction – If teeth are misaligned, crowded, and/or uneven it can put more pressure on certain teeth. Orthodontic treatment can help with alignment to evenly distribute your bite.
  • Stress/anxiety management – If your teeth clenching is related to anxiety, advice from a licensed therapist or professional counselor may help.
  • Address sleep-related issues – A sleep specialist can conduct tests, such as a sleep study to assess for episodes of teeth grinding, and determine if you have sleep apnea or other sleep disorders.

If you suspect you may be grinding your teeth or are interested in learning more, we encourage you to talk with your Smile team.