Understanding Teeth Grinding: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Teeth grinding, medically known as bruxism, is a common condition where people unconsciously clench, grind, or gnash their teeth. It often happens during sleep but can occasionally occur when awake. Approximately 50% of the population experiences this from time to time, with about 5% being regular, forceful teeth grinders. Often, individuals aren’t even aware they have this habit, and it’s usually noticed by a sleeping partner or parents of children.

Symptoms and Signs:

Teeth grinding can show up through various symptoms and signs, such as:

  • Frequent headaches, jaw joint pain, or ear discomfort.
  • Aching teeth, especially upon waking up.
  • Stiffness in the face and around the temples in the morning.
  • Jaw stiffness during breakfast.
  • Clenching the jaw during times of emotional stress, anxiety, or concentration.
  • Sensitive teeth to hot and cold temperatures.
  • Cracked or chipped tooth enamel.
  • Tongue indentations from biting.
  • Loose teeth.

Problems arising from teeth grinding may include:

  • Cracks in tooth enamel.
  • More wear and tear on teeth than usual.
  • Broken teeth or dental restorations, like fillings.
  • Strain on the jaw joint (temporomandibular joint).
  • Pain in the jaw joint or limited jaw movement.
  • Sore jaw muscles.
  • Tooth loss (rare).
  • Enlarged jaw muscles (rare).
  • Heightened tooth sensitivity to temperature changes.

Risk Factors:

Several factors can increase the risk of teeth grinding, including:

  • Stress and anxiety.
  • Alcohol consumption.
  • Smoking.
  • Caffeine intake.
  • Snoring.
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
  • Certain medications, such as antidepressants, anti-psychotics, amphetamines, or cocaine.

Your dentist or oral health professional can help evaluate how these factors might contribute.

Teeth Grinding in Children:

Many parents have heard their children grinding their teeth, usually during sleep. While it’s relatively common in children, most outgrow this habit as their teeth and jaws rapidly develop. Risk factors for teeth grinding in children include teething discomfort, emotional stress, certain medications, or medical conditions like cerebral palsy or ADHD.

Treatment Options:

If you suspect you grind your teeth, consult with your dentist or oral health professional. They may suggest various treatment options, including:

  • Fixing tooth damage.
  • Assessing other forms of tooth wear, like erosion.
  • Evaluating risk factors, including sleep-disordered breathing.
  • Providing a specialized mouthguard (called a ‘bite splint’) to wear at night which can help alleviate symptoms, although it might not eliminate grinding entirely.

Managing bruxism might also involve:

  • Stress management techniques.
  • Relaxation exercises.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy.
  • Hypnotherapy.
  • Practicing good sleep habits.
  • Regular exercise.

If concerns persist or worsen, consider consulting a general practitioner for further evaluation and guidance.