You are currently viewing The truth about teeth grinding

A significant number of the population grind or clench their teeth mostly in their sleep. Grinding also known as bruxism, is devastating to your teeth, the TMJ (temporomandibular joint), the muscles that support chewing, and is a major contributing factor to headaches and toothaches.  Grinding your teeth may also lead to clicking and popping of the TMJ and may cause permanent damage.  Furthermore, the resultant devastating irreversible damage to the tooth enamel may lead to significant dental procedures such as root canals, crown, and in some cases even tooth loss.


Causes of Teeth Grinding

Although it is hard to pinpoint to one cause there are many factors that contribute to grinding.

  • Malocclusion:  Teeth that don’t fit in together may contribute to grinding.  The body’s natural defense mechanism is to get rid of the interferences by grinding in order to get the teeth to fit in right together.  An evaluation by your dentist and an occlusal adjustment may relieve your symptoms.  In cases of severe crowding and bite interferences, orthodontia or Invisalign may help to realign your teeth and relieve you from grinding or clenching your teeth.
  • Sleep disorders:  As we fall sleep the muscles and the tongue relax.  This causes the tongue to regress towards the back of the throat.  The airway instability known as Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome or Sleep apnea can cause grinding because the body’s natural defense mechanism is to grind in order to bring the mandible forward, hence leading to better breathing.
  • Anxiety, stress and tension are also a major contributing factors to grinding your teeth.  Many worries of our lives can remain in our subconscious at night and lead to clenching or grinding.
  • Type A, competitive, and aggressive personalities often find it hard to relax even in their sleep.
  • An uncommon side effect of some psychiatric drugs.
  • A response to pain such as earaches or teething in children.
  • Grinding or clenching can be a result of a disorder such as Parkinson’s disease or Huntington’s disease.
  • Caffeinated drinks, alcohol, smoking and certain recreational drugs such as methamphetamine and ecstasy can also contribute to grinding or clenching.


Symptoms of Teeth Grinding

  • Excessive wear on your teeth
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Excessive recession of your gums
  • Fractures in your teeth
  • Chronic facial pain
  • Pain in your jaw joint
  • Tenderness of your facial muscles
  • Frequent earaches
  • Pain behind your ears
  • Strange noises in your sleep that sounds like you are crunching on a large chunk of ice!
  • Excessive and frequent headaches unrelated to other medical problems.
  • Waking up tired, sore in your jaw muscles, and feeling tired throughout the whole day.
  • An increase in the size of your facial muscles.


Treatment for Teeth Grinding

Treatment begins with a comprehensive history of your sleeping habits, a sleep apnea questionnaire and a comprehensive dental exam.  Your dentist will be able to address bite problems, sleep problems, and behavioral issues that are contributing to your teeth grinding or clenching. Treatment may consist of:

  • A customized night guard to protect your teeth while you sleep.  Although night guards will not stop you from grinding or clenching, they will protect your teeth and jaw joint while you sleep.
  • A sleep study to rule out sleep apnea.
  • Behavior modification exercises such as consciously keeping your teeth apart with your lips sealed and placing the tongue in between your teeth.
  • Warm compress on your cheeks and jaw joint before going to sleep to relax the muscles.
  • Yoga, meditation and relaxing therapies may aid you in controlling the urge to grind and take your problems out on your teeth!

Teeth grinding and clenching instances have steadily been rising during the past several years. An increase in life stress due to our current state of economy and affairs has been linked to the increase in teeth grinding.  Furthermore, the modernized fast food and processed foods have led to more instances of obesity and hence more sleep apnea occurrences. It is of utmost importance that you take bruxism seriously, address the underlying cause and in most instances accept a night time appliance to protect you.  It is very difficult to stop grinding unless it is related to sleep apnea.  Grinding as a result of sleep apnea is more readily solved by advancing the mandible to open the airway, hence stopping the body’s natural defense to grind.  In behavioral or personality clenching or grinding, it is more difficult to treat.  So protect your teeth by wearing a night guard!   For more information on helping you diagnose and treat this devastating condition, call our Escondido, Ca office at 760-747-1811 to see how we can help you.  Also, see our new patient promotions!

Happy smiles, Dr. Rabee McDonald


Dr. Rabee McDonald

I am a 1995 graduate of the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Dental Medicine and completed my post-doctorate training at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center at Newark, New Jersey. I am proud to provide my patients with the best in dental technology, treatment options and patient comfort. I spend several weekends a year at the world renowned Spear Education center to keep up with best dentists in the world.