Sore jaws, headaches, disrupted sleep for loved ones—these are all symptoms of bruxism, otherwise known as teeth grinding. Most of us grind our teeth on occasion when we get stressed or anxious, and that’s okay. However, some people regularly grind their teeth and can cause long-lasting damage by doing so. Because most people are asleep when they grind their teeth, they often do not realize they are doing it. There are some signs and symptoms of teeth grinding that you can be on the lookout to find out if you are doing it. If you do grind your teeth, there are steps you can take to protect your teeth from possible harm.


Symptoms of Teeth Grinding

People can grind and clench their teeth both while sleeping and while awake. Teeth grinding is an unconscious contraction of the jaw muscles. Because it is unconscious, people are not usually aware that they do it until they experience its painful effects. Some possible symptoms of teeth grinding include:

  • Dull headache near the temples
  • Pain in the jaw or face
  • Stiff neck or shoulders
  • Tired, tight, or locked jaw
  • Earache
  • Tooth and gum pain or sensitivity
  • Worn down tooth enamel
  • Flattened, chipped, or fractured teeth
  • Sores from chewing on the inside of the cheek
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Waking up partner with sound of teeth grinding

If you experience some of these symptoms, you may be grinding your teeth. It is important to determine what is causing you to grind your teeth so you can take the steps to correct it.


Teeth Grinding Causes

Teeth grinding, or bruxism, is typically an unconscious response to stress or anxiety. People who experience awake bruxism usually grind their teeth when in stressful or emotional situations. It can also be an unconscious coping mechanism or a habit when concentrating. Some people also have a habit of clenching their teeth when performing physical tasks such as lifting heavy objects.

Sleep bruxism is more common than awake bruxism. It is often the body’s unconscious reaction to stress or anxiety that has carried over from the wakeful mind to the subconscious while asleep. Smoking and the heavy consumption of alcohol or caffeine can also cause teeth grinding during sleep. Another cause of teeth grinding can be sleep disorders. Those with sleep apnea or snoring issues are more likely to grind their teeth at night.

There are some additional factors that can contribute to a person’s likelihood to grind their teeth. A family history of teeth grinding can make you more likely to do it. Some psychiatric medications have also been found to cause people to grind their teeth as a side effect. Additionally, age can be a factor. Teeth grinding is common among young children, but they usually grow out of it as they get older. Personality is another possible determinant. Those with more aggressive or hyperactive personalities are more likely to grind their teeth. In addition to sleep disorders, other medical and mental health disorders can cause bruxism. Some examples are ADHD, dementia, epilepsy, and gastroesophageal reflux disorder. However, these factors do not always cause teeth grinding, and the presence of teeth grinding should not be used as an indicator of having one of these disorders.


Harmful Effects of Bruxism

People who only occasionally grind their teeth do not usually experience serious effects. Chronic teeth grinding, on the other hand, can present painful consequences. Those who grind their teeth regularly can actually wear down their teeth to just stumps. They can also experience tooth fracture and even the loosening or loss of teeth. Crowns and other restorative dental work can be damaged as well. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) can be damaged from the constant pressure of clenching and moving the jaw, leading to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). This can be very painful and can make it difficult to open and close your mouth.

If teeth grinding is not treated and results in these problems, then dental work will be necessary to fix the damage. Some of the ways dentists can fix the damage include crowns, bridges, and implants. Root canals can be needed if a tooth has been severely damaged. If teeth have been lost, partial or complete dentures may need to be prescribed.


How to Stop Grinding Your Teeth

If you suspect that you are grinding your teeth, talk to your dentist about it. They can determine whether or not you need treatment. The first step to stopping teeth grinding is to determine what is causing it. If you are grinding your teeth because of stress, taking steps to lower your stress levels can make it stop. A licensed professional can help you find ways to manage your stress, which in turn can fix teeth grinding both when you are awake and asleep. If you or your dentist suspects that a sleep disorder may be causing you to grind your teeth, you should talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist about possible treatments.

The most common treatment for teeth grinding at night, regardless of the cause, is to sleep with a mouth guard or splint. This provides a cushion between your upper and lower teeth to protect them from grinding against each other. Your dentist can provide you with a custom-fit mouth guard to wear while you sleep.

Some other measures you can take to reduce teeth grinding are cutting back on the amount of alcohol and caffeine you consume, as well as stopping the use of tobacco products. Avoid chewing on anything besides food, including chewing gum. Constantly chewing on things makes your jaw used to clenching, which makes it more likely to unconsciously clench and grind throughout the day and at night. If you notice that you are clenching your jaw during the day, place the tip of your tongue between your front teeth to make your jaw muscles relax. Continually doing this trains your jaw muscles to involuntarily relax instead of clench.


General Dentist in Knoxville, Tennessee

Are you concerned that you may be grinding your teeth? The dentists at University General Dentists have experience diagnosing and treating bruxism. We will come up with a treatment plan designed specifically for you to protect your teeth from the damage that teeth grinding can cause. We can also fix the damage that bruxism may have already caused. If you think you are grinding your teeth, schedule an appointment with us at either of our convenient locations so that we can help you maintain a healthy, beautiful smile. Schedule an appointment with us at our West Knoxville office at 865-500-5700 or at our UT Medical Center office at 865-305-9440, or visit our website.