What is Bruxism?

Bruxism is a condition in which you grind or clench your teeth. If you have bruxism, you may unconsciously clench your teeth together during the day, or clench or grind them at night (sleep bruxism). Sleep bruxism is considered a sleep-related movement disorder. People who clench or grind their teeth during sleep are more likely to have other sleep disorders, such as snoring and pauses in breathing (sleep apnea). Mild cases may not require treatment. However, in some people, bruxism can be frequent and severe enough to lead to jaw disorders, headaches, damaged teeth and other problems. Because you may have sleep bruxism and be unaware of it until complications develop, it's important to know the signs and symptoms and to seek regular dental care.

Signs and symptoms of bruxism may include:

  • Teeth grinding or clenching, which may be loud enough to awaken your sleep partner
  • Teeth that are flattened, fractured, chipped or loose
  • Worn tooth enamel, exposing deeper layers of your tooth
  • Increased tooth sensitivity
  • Jaw or face pain or soreness
  • Tired or tight jaw muscles
  • Pain that feels like an earache, though it's actually not a problem with your ear
  • Dull headache originating in the temples
  • Damage from chewing on the inside of your cheek
  • Indentations on your tongue

When to see a dentist

See your dentist if:

  • Your teeth are worn, damaged or sensitive
  • You have pain in your jaw, face or ear
  • Others complain that you make a grinding noise while you sleep
  • You have a locked jaw that won't open or close completely

Dental approaches

If you or your child has bruxism, your dentist may suggest ways to preserve or improve your teeth. Although these methods may prevent or correct the wear to your teeth, they may not stop the bruxism:

Splints and mouth guards. These are designed to keep teeth separated to avoid the damage caused by clenching and grinding. They can be constructed of hard acrylic or soft materials and fit over your upper or lower teeth.
Dental correction. Correcting teeth that aren't properly aligned may help if your bruxism seems to be related to dental problems. In severe cases — when tooth wear has led to sensitivity or the inability to chew properly — your dentist may need to reshape the chewing surfaces of your teeth or use crowns. In certain cases, your dentist may recommend braces or oral surgery.

Therapies

Certain therapies may help relieve bruxism, such as:

Stress management. If you grind your teeth because of stress, you may be able to prevent the problem with professional counseling or strategies that promote relaxation, such as exercise or meditation.
Behavior therapy. Once you discover that you have bruxism, you may be able to change the behavior by practicing proper mouth and jaw position. Ask your dentist to show you the best position for your mouth and jaw.

Medications

In general, medications aren't very effective for treatment of bruxism.

Examples of medications that may be used for bruxism include:

Muscle relaxants. In some cases, your doctor may suggest taking a muscle relaxant before bedtime, for a short period of time.
Botox injections. Botox injections may help some people with severe bruxism who don't respond to other treatments.