Understanding Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)

Teeth grinding (bruxism) may happen at any time. But people often grind their teeth in their sleep. You may not even know you're doing it. The causes are not clear. Stress is 1 possible cause. But often the reason for the habit is not known.

Side view of teeth and jaws showing cracked tooth, chipped tooth, and flattened, worn-down tooth.

Damage caused by teeth grinding

Teeth grinding may cause:

  • Chipped enamel and cracked teeth

  • Flattened, grooved, worn-down teeth

  • Loosened teeth

  • More rapid progression of gum (periodontal) problems

If it goes untreated, bruxism may lead to jaw muscle and joint problems. These are known as TMJ (temporomandibular joint) problems or TMD (temporomandibular disorder). You could even lose your teeth.

Evaluating the problem

Your dentist will examine your entire mouth and ask several questions. This evaluation helps confirm that you do grind your teeth. It may also help identify a possible cause of your teeth-grinding habit.

The symptoms of grinding

Symptoms like these may be a signal that you grind your teeth:

  • A sore, tired jaw

  • Sensitive teeth

  • Loose teeth

  • Dull headaches, earaches, or neck aches

  • Clicking sounds when you open your mouth

Possible treatments

Your dentist may suggest 1 or more of these treatments:

  • A mouth guard.  This is a plastic device that fits over your teeth. It protects teeth from grinding damage. It's worn at the times when you're most likely to grind your teeth.

  • Bite adjustment. This involves correcting the way your top teeth fit against your bottom teeth. It can reduce chances of grinding if your bite is uneven.

  • Reducing stress. This may lessen grinding by relaxing your jaw muscles. Your dentist may suggest ways to reduce stress, such as exercise.

  • Medicine. This may be given to help relieve sore muscles or reduce stress.