Do you grind your teeth when you’re sleeping, concentrating or stressed?
Do you often wake up with a headache, toothache or jaw pain?
Involuntary grinding of the teeth is known as bruxism. Most people aren’t aware that they are grinding their teeth or clenching their jaw until symptoms begin to surface. If left untreated, it can wear down or damage the teeth over time, or put strain on the joints and muscles in your jaw.
It’s thought that around half the population grinds or clenches their teeth occasionally, but around 5% do this regularly and forcefully. As bruxism often takes place during sleep, you might not even know you have it unless someone tells you.
People may grind or clench their teeth for many different reasons. Trying to understand what’s causing your bruxism is the first step to effective treatment.
What are the signs of bruxism?
Teeth grinding or jaw clenching are the most obvious signs of bruxism, but this behaviour can go unnoticed if it only happens at night. Other symptoms that could indicate bruxism include:
- tooth pain or sensitivity to temperature
- chipped, worn or loose teeth
- headache, ear pain or stiffness in the face
- jaw pain when eating, especially at breakfast.
If you or someone in your family has any of these symptoms, you should make an appointment to see your dentist. They can determine whether bruxism or another problem may be present and can recommend the most suitable treatments.
When can it be a problem?
As well as causing pain and discomfort, bruxism can damage teeth or dental restorations and put strain on the jaw over time, which can lead to further problems.
Grinding or clenching can cause the teeth to experience more wear and tear than is normal. This can make them more vulnerable to damage and more sensitive to hot and cold food and drink. If grinding or clenching is particularly forceful, teeth may even become chipped, cracked, or in some cases even come loose.
If you have a filling, crown or other dental restoration, these may also be damaged or loosened by the force of grinding.
It’s not just your teeth that can be affected either. Grinding and clenching put pressure on your jaw, which can sometimes strain or damage the muscles and joints. This can contribute to temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJD).
What is TMJD?
Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders (TMJ disorders or TMJD) are conditions involving the joints and muscles that control the movements of the jaw.
Common symptoms of TMJD can include pain in the jaw, face or neck, difficulty moving the jaw, or clicking, popping or grating sounds when opening or closing the mouth. More severe TMJD can cause the jaw to shift position, affecting the way the top and bottom teeth fit together.
TMJD symptoms can sometimes be eased with self-care, but this is less likely to be successful if you continue to grind or clench your teeth and put pressure on your jaw.
What causes teeth grinding?
Bruxism can have a number of possible causes, both physical and psychological, and these aren’t always clear. Identifying the most likely cause or causescan help you and your dentist toplan the most effective treatments.
Some of the common causes of bruxism are:
- Mood disorders – some studies have found that nearly 70% of bruxism cases are related to stress or anxiety, as these can affect quality of sleep.
- Sleep disorders – you’re more likely to grind your teeth at night if you have another sleep disorder such as obstructive sleep apnoea, talking in your sleep or sleep paralysis.
- Lifestyle factors – psychoactive substances that stimulate the brain and can affect sleep are associated with a higher risk of bruxism. These include alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and certain medications.
- Physical causes – you may be more likely to grind your teeth if your bite is uneven. This may be caused by an improper bite (malocclusion), damaged, missing or worn down teeth, or incorrectly sized dental restorations such as high fillings or crowns.
Bruxism can affect people of all ages and genders. Awake bruxism is more common in females compared to males while sleep bruxism shows no gender difference. It is common in young children whose teeth are still developing, thoughmost children stop grinding their teeth by their teens.
How can I stop grinding my teeth?
If your dentist spots signs of bruxism on your teeth, they’ll ask you questions to try to understand what’s causing you to grind or clench. They’ll then discuss possible treatments with you, or may recommend you to another health professional.
Treatments for bruxism may include:
- Dental treatments – if your bruxism has a physical cause, your dentist can recommend treatments to help align or even out your bite.
- Bite splint – if you only grind your teeth while sleeping, your dentist may recommend that you wear a custom-made splint (similar to a mouthguard). This helps to protect your teeth from damage while you sleep, but it won’t treat the underlying problem.
- Lifestyle changes – avoiding or moderating your intake of tobacco, caffeine and alcohol, changing your medication and trying to go to sleep at regular times could all help to lower your risk of teeth grinding at night.
- Stress management – if stress or anxiety may be causing your bruxism, your dentist may recommend that you try relaxation techniques and exercise. They may also refer you to stress management or cognitive behaviour therapy if they think this could help.
How can I prevent TMJD?
If your dentist also diagnoses a problem with your jaw joints or muscles (TMJD), overcoming teeth grinding or jaw clenching could help to relieve these symptoms.
You may also be advised to avoid opening your mouth too wide, to avoid hard, crunchy or chewy foods, or to try jaw stretching and relaxing exercises. Pain relief and anti-inflammatory medication could also help to ease TMJD symptoms.
In rare cases, TMJ disorders may require surgery to replace damaged jaw joints with artificial implants.
Do you need to see a dentist in Melbourne?
If you think you might have bruxism, TMJD or another problem, our dentists at Freedom Dental could help.
Call our friendly team on 03 9828 3888 or make an appointment at our dental clinic near Melbourne CBD.
 Australian Dental Association. Teeth Grinding [Online] 2016 [Accessed August 2018] Available from: https://www.ada.org.au/Your-Dental-Health/Older-Adults-65/Teeth-Grinding
 Better Health Channel. Teeth grinding [Online] 2018 [Accessed August 2018] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/teeth-grinding
 Jonathan Lomas, Taylan Gurgenci, Christopher Jackson and Duncan Campbell. Temporomandibular dysfunction in Australian Journal of General Practice, Volume 47, No. 4, April 2018 [Online] [Accessed August 2018] Available from: https://www.racgp.org.au/AJGP/2018/April/Temporomandibular-dysfunction
 National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint and Muscle Disorders) [Online] 2018 [Accessed August 2018] Available from: https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/tmj/more-info
 The Bruxism Association. Causes Of Bruxism [Online] 2008 [Accessed August 2018] Available from: http://www.bruxism.org.uk/causes-of-bruxism.php