Bruxism – Grinding Or Clenching Teeth While Sleeping

Bruxism is a state in which one grinds, gnashes or clenches one’s teeth. If one has bruxism one may unconsciously clench the teeth when awake (awake bruxism) or clench and grind them during sleep (sleep bruxism).

Sleep bruxism is a disorder related to sleep-related movement. People who have sleep bruxism develop other complications like snoring and sleep apnea (pauses in breathing).

Mild bruxism is not a problem and may not require treatment. Though in some people, bruxism is frequent and severe which may lead to jaw disorders, headaches, damaged teeth and other acute or non-severe problems.

Bruxism - Grinding Or Clenching Teeth While Sleeping


Cause of bruxism is always not clear. Recent researchers have shown that occlusal interference and factors related to the oral-facial skeleton have no role in causing bruxism. Reasons may include:

  • Sleep Disorders: Bruxism rarely occurs alone. Bruxism is common amongst the individuals who have existing sleep disorders like snoring, breathing pauses during sleep, etc. Other sleep activities like sleep talking, violent or injurious behaviors during sleep, sleep paralysis, hypnagogic/hypnopompic hallucinations (conditions between sleep and wake, semi-conscious state) are frequently seen to accompany bruxism and tooth-grinding disease.
  • Lifestyle factors: Demographic and lifestyle factors like young age, higher educational status, high caffeine intake, smoking and heavy alcohol consumption are the accompanying factors of bruxism. The use of psychoactive substances increases arousal and leads to problems in falling asleep, staying asleep and cause daytime sleepiness. It is higher in individuals whose lifestyle has a high consumption of the psychoactive substances.
  • Stress, Anxiety and other Psychological Components: Mental disorders, anxiety, stress and other adverse psychosocial factors are significantly related to causing the grinding of the tooth during sleep, and it indicates in the data that about 70% of bruxism is a result of stress or anxiety. Work environment also affects the stress levels.

Related Article: Gingivitis Causes And Treatment

New York Kids Dentist, Dr. Kimberli Leal, states that in children bruxism occurs during sleep and reasons may include improperly aligned teeth or irregular contact between upper and lower teeth, illness and other medical conditions like nutritional deficiencies, pinworm, allergies, endocrine disorders and also psychological factors including stress and anxiety.


  • Teeth grinding or clenching. Sometimes it may be loud enough to wake up the person sleeping next to you.
  • Flattened, fractured, chipped or loose teeth.
  • Tooth enamel may wear out, exposing deeper layers of the tooth.
  • Increase in the pain of tooth and sensitivity
  • Tired or tight jaw muscles
  • Locked jaw that wouldn’t open or close completely
  • Pain in jaw, neck or face
  • Soreness in jaw, neck or face
  • A dull headache starting from the temples
  • Disruption in sleep
  • Rhythmic contraction of jaw muscles

Bruxism - Grinding Or Clenching Teeth While Sleeping


If bruxism is related to stress, professional counseling may prove helpful. Cutting down on stimulants and psychoactive substances can help the person to relax.

In both children and adults, tooth damage caused by bruxism can be prevented by wearing a night bite plate or a bite splint. These are dental appliance worn at night to stop teeth grinding.

Other methods by which bruxism can be prevented are:

  • Avoiding foods and drinks containing caffeine like colas, chocolate, and coffee.
  • Avoiding consuming alcohol. Alcohol tends to intensify after consumption.
  • Avoiding chewing pencils or pens or anything else that is not food.
  • Avoiding chewing gums as it allows the jaw muscles to get more used to clenching and making one more likely to grind the teeth.
  • Relaxing one’s jaws at night by holding a warm washcloth against one’s check in front of the earlobe.

Methods for preventing the child from grinding his or her teeth:

  • Decrease child’s stress, especially just before going to bed.
  • Make him try massage and stretching exercises to relax the muscles.
  • Include plenty of water in the child’s diet as dehydration also may be linked to teeth grinding.
  • One may seek dental help from a dentist asking him to monitor the child’s teeth to prevent damage.

Treatment for Bruxism

Treatment of bruxism depends on its cause.

  • If bruxism is stress related, the dentist or physician may recommend physical counseling, psychotherapy, biofeedback exercises or other strategies to make the patient relax. Medicine such as Valium (diazepam) may be prescribed. One may also receive a muscle relaxant to ease the spasm in the jaw temporarily. If all these cases do not help dentist may send the patient to an oral surgeon.
  • If it is related to dental problems, the dentist corrects the tooth ailments. In severe cases, onlays or crowns may be required.
  • If any medicine causes the bruxism, a doctor may change the dose or give another drug to counteract bruxism.

Bruxism nowadays is a common problem in children, as well as adults and care and precautions, must be taken before it gets too late. Bruxism causes substantial damage to the teeth if left untreated.



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