Unraveling the Mystery of Bruxism: What's Behind Teeth Grinding and How to Find Relief

Bruxism. It's a word that may sound unfamiliar to many, yet it affects millions of people worldwide. This condition, often referred to as teeth grinding or jaw clenching, can lead to a range of discomforts and dental problems. So, let’s take a look into what bruxism is, explore its causes and triggers, discuss available treatments, and offer practical ways to find relief.

Understanding Bruxism

Bruxism is a habitual, involuntary grinding or clenching of the teeth, typically occurring during sleep. However, some individuals also experience daytime bruxism. It can affect people of all ages, from children to adults, and can lead to various complications if left untreated. Understanding the underlying causes and triggers of bruxism empowers you to seek the appropriate treatments or practices necessary to alleviate its effects.

What are some of the effects of bruxism?

Great question! Bruxism can have a profound impact on one's well-being. Its effects can extend beyond dental concerns to encompass various aspects of physical and emotional health. Prolonged bruxism can result in dental damage, leading to tooth sensitivity and fractures, as well as increased risk of cavities and nerve exposure. 

The strain on the jaw joint can manifest as jaw pain and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). Headaches, facial pain, and earaches are common discomforts, while sleep disturbances affect both bruxism sufferers and their sleep partners. Gum recession, aesthetic changes in the teeth, and even heightened stress and anxiety due to the condition can further compound the challenges faced by those with bruxism. Understanding these effects underscores the importance of seeking timely treatment and management strategies for this condition to mitigate its consequences and improve overall quality of life.


Causes and Triggers

Bruxism, often a complex and multifactorial condition, can be triggered by a variety of causes and factors. Stress and anxiety, for instance, stand out as primary culprits; the mental tension experienced often manifests physically, particularly in the form of shoulder, neck and jaw tension that leads to teeth grinding. Sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, pose another potential trigger. When the body struggles to maintain regular breathing during sleep, it may resort to teeth grinding as an instinctive response to open the airway. Additionally, misaligned teeth, or malocclusion, can be a contributing factor, as they may inadvertently rub against each other, leading to grinding or clenching. Certain lifestyle factors, including excessive alcohol consumption, high caffeine intake, and tobacco use, have also been linked to an increased risk of bruxism. Furthermore, some medications, particularly antidepressants and antipsychotics, have been associated with teeth grinding as a side effect, underscoring the diverse range of factors that can contribute to this condition.


How do you treat bruxism?

The good news is that bruxism can be managed! Seeking professional advice from your dentist is the first step if you are experiencing signs and symptoms of bruxism.  This condition can be treated effectively through various methods that target both it's root causes and the associated discomforts. 


Mouthguards and Splints

Dentists often recommend custom-fitted mouthguards or splints that protect your teeth from grinding and clenching during sleep. These oral appliances protect teeth by creating a barrier that prevents direct contact during grinding, reducing the risk of tooth damage and sensitivity. They also alleviate jaw pain and tension headaches associated with bruxism by cushioning the impact on the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and facial muscles. Additionally, night guards preserve dental work and promote better sleep for both the individual with bruxism and their sleep partner by reducing the noise and disturbance caused by grinding. While night guards are effective in managing the symptoms of bruxism, it's essential to address the underlying causes of the condition for comprehensive treatment.


Stress Management

Stress management techniques can be an integral part of bruxism treatment because stress is a primary trigger for this condition. Bruxism frequently manifests as a physical response to psychological stress and anxiety, with tension in the mind translating into jaw tension, which can result in teeth grinding. By addressing the root cause of stress, individuals can significantly reduce the frequency and severity of bruxism. Stress management not only contributes to a better overall quality of life but also plays a crucial role in preventing the dental damage, jaw pain, and other associated complications that can result from untreated bruxism. Thus, it complements other treatment approaches, such as night guards or splints, by tackling the underlying factors that contribute to the condition.


Dental Correction


If crowded or misaligned teeth are the source, your dentist may recommend correcting the malocclusion (misaligned teeth) as part of a comprehensive strategy. This can address bruxism because it directly addresses one of the potential underlying causes of the condition. Malocclusion can lead to an irregular bite, causing teeth to not fit together correctly. In response, individuals may subconsciously grind or clench their teeth to achieve a more comfortable resting position, inadvertently triggering bruxism. By correcting malocclusion through orthodontic treatments, dentists aim to eliminate the need for this compensatory grinding. This approach not only alleviates the discomfort associated with bruxism but also prevents the dental damage and other complications that can result from prolonged teeth grinding, offering a more sustainable solution.

Additionally, people who are missing teeth are also more likely to develop bruxism. This happens because the remaining teeth must work harder to compensate for the missing ones, putting extra pressure and stresses on them. As a result, this extra strain increases the chances of these teeth breaking or fracturing due to the uneven stress they endure.


Behavioral Therapy

Healthcare professional may also recommend behavioral therapy as part of a comprehensive approach to manage bruxism because it confronts the psychological aspects of the condition. Behavioral therapy can help individuals identify and modify the habits and triggers that contribute to teeth grinding and jaw clenching. By working with a therapist or counselor, individuals can learn effective stress-reduction techniques, relaxation exercises, and behavioral changes that alleviate the impact of stress and anxiety, which are common triggers for bruxism. This therapeutic approach empowers individuals to gain greater control over their responses to stressors and fosters healthier coping mechanisms, ultimately reducing the frequency and severity of bruxism occurrences. By getting down to the source and promoting positive behavioral changes, behavioral therapy complements other treatment methods like night guards or splints, leading to more effective and lasting bruxism management.


It starts with you...

Individuals dealing with bruxism can also incorporate beneficial lifestyle changes and self-care practices into their every-day in addition to seeking out professional guidance. To reduce stress, engaging in relaxation techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness can be immensely helpful. Cutting back on stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol, particularly in the evening, can further alleviate symptoms. Applying a warm compress to the jaw before bedtime may effectively relax the jaw muscles, and gentle massages on the jaw and neck area can help release tension. These self-care practices, when combined with professional advice, contribute to the healthy and successful management of bruxism.


Bruxism may be a common but is often an overlooked condition. By understanding its causes, triggers, and available treatments, you can take steps to manage and find relief from the discomfort it causes. Consult a dentist or healthcare professional if you suspect you have bruxism, as early intervention can prevent further complications and restore peaceful, pain-free nights of sleep.

Chris Weichenthal CDAII

With over two decades of dedicated experience in the dental field, Chris brings a wealth of dental knowledge and expertise to maxill. She’s had the privilege of collaborating with a diverse range of dental specialists, honing her expertise in various facets of oral healthcare. Her true passion however lies in patient education. She derives immense satisfaction from empowering patients with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their oral health. Chris is continuously driven to evolve and share her extensive dental knowledge, and remains committed to nurturing the future of dentistry, fostering a legacy of informed practitioners who prioritize patient well-being and excellence in oral healthcare.