We grind our teeth often in our day to day lives. Whether out of frustration or as an expression of anger, our jaws clench and bite down.
For some people, however, teeth grinding is more than just an act of frustration. When done too often, especially as an unconscious habit, teeth grinding can be a problem. It can cause aches and pains in the head and shoulders, as well as damage your teeth.
When it gets out of hand, you may even need the intervention of a dentist to slow down and prevent long-term harm to your teeth and muscles.
Why do you grind your teeth, and how can you stop?
Here we’ll discuss all you need to know about the medical condition known as “bruxism,” and what you can change in your lifestyle to prevent it.
- 1 What Is Bruxism?
- 2 Bruxism Symptoms
- 3 Why Do You Grind Your Teeth?
- 4 How to Stop Grinding Teeth
- 5 When to See the Doctor about Teeth Grinding
- 6 Professional Treatment for Teeth Grinding
- 7 Conclusion
What Is Bruxism?
Bruxism is the medical term for excessive teeth grinding, but it can also refer to the action of excessively gnashing and clenching teeth. It can be classified into two types, depending on the time it occurs.
Awake bruxism refers to excessively grinding teeth during the day; night bruxism refers to excessively grinding teeth at night.
The term bruxism often refers to sleep bruxism, as this is the most common type. Because bruxism often happens at night, it usually goes undiagnosed for a long time; it can be hard to determine something that happens in your sleep.
People who suffer from sleep bruxism regularly report aches and pains, with no solid clue as to why.
In this regard, it’s good to be aware of bruxism. Even if all your aches and pains (or the lack of) are accounted for, it’s better to know how this condition affects you.
So, the next time you wonder why you’re feeling headaches and mouth sores for no good reason, you’ll be able to rule out bruxism as a cause and proceed to other fixes.
While it can be hard to determine whether you have bruxism or not, there are still a few things that you may notice during your waking hours.
As soon as you wake up, see if you are experiencing:
Sore Jaw Muscles
Clenching your jaw all night will lead to sore jaw muscles.
In severe cases, teeth grinding may even lead to a locked jaw. Locked jaws are when you have trouble opening and closing the jaw.
Pain That Feels Like Ear Pain
If you grind your teeth at night, you may think that you have ear pain. However, this isn’t actually ear pain, but, rather, pain in your temporomandibular joint.
The temporomandibular joint, also known as the TMJ, is the joint of your jaw and sits directly below your ears.
The more this joint is worked during your grinding sessions, the more worn-out and sore it will feel later.
A Dull Headache
If you regularly experience migraines, teeth clenching may be the cause for it. The Bruxism Association determined that the most common symptom of teeth grinding is headaches.
How does this occur? Pain from the temporomandibular joint may travel to other places in the skull, causing general discomfort and even migraines.
Neck and Shoulder Pain
Other than headaches and ear pain, bruxism can also cause pain in the shoulders and neck.
Pain in the shoulder and neck area could have been pain that originated in the TMJ. If you suffer from bruxism, you may feel this as pain or tension in the day time.
Sensitive Teeth, Increased Tooth Pain
Because of the pressure that they have been subjected to the night before, your teeth may feel more sensitive during the day.
Teeth sensitivity may include pain when eating cold food (like ice cream and cold drinks), as well as gum soreness.
Bruxism may also lead to the wearing down of enamel coating the tooth, which in turn can cause tooth pain and sensitivity. In extreme cases, bruxism may even lead to tooth breakage.
Other than these factors, bruxism may also disrupt your sleep, as well as anyone else sleeping nearby. Teeth grinding can be loud enough to awaken those sleeping close to you, and can wake you up in the middle of the night.
Why Do You Grind Your Teeth?
While it doesn’t appear serious at a glance, bruxism can be a significant problem for our dental health. To help solve this problem, you will need to determine the cause of your teeth grinding.
Here are a few common reasons as to why people develop bruxism:
More often than not, nighttime bruxism is caused by too much stress. Emotions that cause stress, like anger and frustration, can also lead to bruxism.
While other factors may exacerbate your symptoms, stress is often the underlying factor of all of them.
Bruxism is more common in children, but the reason is still up for debate.
Some say that it’s due to misaligned teeth, which they will eventually outgrow. Others say that it is a response to teething, which will also eventually go away as they grow older.
In any case, most people do lose their bruxism tendency as they age, barring other factors like stress or medical conditions.
Since the common reason for bruxism is stress, your personality type may also have a hand in your condition.
People who are aggressive, competitive, and hyperactive may lead more stressful lives. As such, if you have a very high-energy personality, you may grind your teeth as a nervous tick or as a response to your active lifestyle.
While uncommon, bruxism can be an unfortunate side effect of some drugs.
Specifically, psychiatric medications, like certain antidepressants, encourage teeth grinding.
Just like with medication, substances like tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine can increase the risk of bruxism. Each of these substances affects stress levels, which in turn can increase the risk of teeth grinding at night.
For example, caffeine increases levels of cortisol, which is also known as the ‘stress hormone.’ Alcohol, on the other hand, interferes with neurotransmitters in the brain, making it harder to cope with stress.
Nicotine dependency also increases stress levels due to the effects of withdrawal.
This video goes into more detail on teeth grinding.
How to Stop Grinding Teeth
Stopping bruxism can be done through treatment by a dentist or specialist, but it can also be done on your own.
There are several methods of how to stop grinding teeth in sleep naturally.
Employ Relaxation Techniques
When dealing with bruxism, remember that the main cause tends to be stress. In this regard, try to employ relaxation techniques to help you relieve stress before sleeping.
Not only will it reduce the chances of teeth grinding, but it will help you enjoy better sleep overall. Going for a walk, doing some light yoga, or getting a massage can help reduce the chances of bruxism at night.
Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine
Alcohol and caffeine can be helpful at times, but not just before bed. It’s common knowledge that caffeine keeps people up at night.
Alcohol, however, is used as a sleeping aide by some people. Unfortunately, there have been many studies showing how alcohol actually leads to worse sleep conditions.
For one thing, alcohol can cause sleep disruptions later in the night. Research has shown that alcohol disrupts the REM phase, the deepest phase of sleep, causing grogginess, irritation, and drowsiness in your waking hours.
Even worse, alcohol is an addictive substance, which means that the more you use it, the less it affects you.
Withdrawal symptoms are also a serious issue, which makes you need the substance long after it stops being effective.
Replace Your Chewing Habits
Gnawing on objects, like pens and pencils, can damage your teeth. It also gets your muscles clenching harder than necessary, which can lead to teeth grinding at night.
As a rule of thumb, avoid using your teeth for opening bottle caps, tearing off tape, opening packages, or for anything other than chewing food.
When it comes to habits, being mindful is key. To stop yourself from gnawing, try to be mindful of the times you grind or clench during the day.
Sleep.org recommends keeping your lips closed, but teeth apart; the only time your teeth touch should be when you’re eating. When you feel your jaw clenching, relax your muscles and maintain this position for a few moments.
Skip Chewy Foods
On that note, if your jaw is sore from bruxism, skip foods that require a lot of chewing.
Gums, popcorn, steak, and the like can make your soreness worse. Better yet, eat soft foods like soups, Jello, and protein shakes.
When to See the Doctor about Teeth Grinding
While it is possible to cure bruxism by yourself, it is sometimes better to bring your problems to a professional. After all, symptoms of bruxism can be hard to determine, other than a few aches and pains that can be due to something else entirely.
If you suspect that you suffer from bruxism, it’s wise to contact a dentist. A dentist will be able to determine if bruxism is damaging your teeth and prevent any further damage from occurring.
More importantly, bringing yourself to a dentist will also help you determine if you are suffering from more serious issues that can result in bruxism.
These oral disorders can include TMJ disorders, ear disorders or infections, or other dental conditions. Physicians and dentists will rule out these possibilities before looking at treatment options.
Professional Treatment for Teeth Grinding
When visiting your dentist, they will first determine if you are suffering from any other symptoms.
After running tests to ensure otherwise, they will recommend treatments to help alleviate the symptoms of bruxism and to avoid further damage to your teeth.
These treatments can include the following:
Getting a mouth guard is one of the most common treatments that dentists recommend for bruxism. Those who have participated in collision sports may be familiar with mouth guards.
Other than protecting the mouth in sports where the chances of injury are high, mouth guards can also be an effective way of minimizing teeth grinding.
When consulting a dentist, they can provide you with a custom-fit mouth guard. A custom-fit mouth guard will take some time to create; if you want to save on time and cost, you can also buy over-the-counter mouth guards. Of course, these mouth guards may be less comfortable than custom-fit ones.
Mouth guards are often made with a type of plastic; higher quality mouth guards are soft and comfortable to wear.
Dental crowns are used to cover a tooth that has been chipped, fractured, or otherwise damaged.
Unlike mouth guards, dental crowns are fixed onto the surface of the tooth and are often made using porcelain or ceramic.
Because they alter the outer appearance of a tooth, dental crowns can be a great way to give you a better bite; if your bruxism is due to anatomical reasons, a better bite may remove bruxism entirely.
Additionally, dental crowns can also hide the damage that bruxism has already caused. It can also prevent further damage to your teeth, as the tooth is now strengthened by the dental crown.
Other than mouth guards and dental crowns, your doctor or dentist may recommend a muscle relaxant.
A muscle relaxant can be a fast and effective way to lessen bruxism without having to create a mouth guard or undergoing a dental crown operation.
It should be noted, however, that drugs may be less effective in the treatment of bruxism, and require further study.
Here’s a video that gives more information on how to stop grinding teeth.
While bruxism isn’t something that a lot of people discuss, it requires some thought. There are a lot of people who suffer from bruxism, with numbers ranging up to 31% of the population.
While it is common, a bruxism diagnosis can evade even the ones that suffer from it the most, leaving only confusing aches and pains in the day.
Thankfully, there are many ways to determine if your aches and pains are due to teeth grinding. Whether you diagnose it all on your own or ask a dentist or physician, it’s always a good idea to be mindful of our health—and our teeth.
Do you have experience with grinding teeth at night?