You May Be Grinding Your Teeth – Without Even Knowing It
Are you grinding your teeth? It’s something that can happen when you’re relaxed or asleep. It can also happen when you’re awake, often when stressed, anxious, angry, or seriously focused on something.
“Teeth grinding is very common,” says Daria Vasilyeva, DDS. “It has some serious consequences, and some are irreversible, but it’s certainly manageable.”
Many people who grind their teeth have no idea they’re doing it until severe headaches send them to the doctor or their partner in bed tells them to check out what’s going on (yes, someone physically close to you can sometimes hear it).
Vasilyeva, an oral pathologist, is an oral health detective. She helps patients, current and future dentists and oral surgeons make sense of sores, bumps, rashes, aches, and other issues in a patient’s mouth. We asked her to teach us about teeth grinding. Here’s what she said.
What is teeth grinding?
Teeth grinding, also called bruxism, is when you unintentionally clench or grind your teeth together. It’s a habit that happens without you realizing you are doing it.
Teeth grinding often happens when someone is relaxed or asleep (sleep bruxism). It can also happen when awake (awake bruxism), often when you’re stressed, anxious, angry, or concentrating really hard.
Who grinds their teeth?
Anyone can grind their teeth!
Teeth grinding is quite common. It affects people of all genders, ages, and backgrounds.
Kids may start grinding their teeth as soon as they get their first teeth. We see it most frequently in adolescents and young adults.
Why do people grind their teeth?
Stress and anxiety are big contributing factors, but sometimes, there is no clear reason why someone grinds their teeth.
People with certain lifestyle habits, like smoking, alcohol, and excess caffeine consumption, are more likely to grind their teeth. Certain medications, especially certain anti-anxiety meds, make a person more likely to grind. Many people with sleep issues clench and grind, too. We don’t know yet whether it’s sleep disorders that cause teeth grinding or the other way around.
How do I know if I’m grinding my teeth?
Clues you might be grinding your teeth:
- Jaw or face soreness or pain, especially in the morning
- Pain when chewing, opening your mouth, or talking
- Dull headaches around the temples
- Ringing in the ears and earaches
- Teeth get flatter, shorter, or chipping (happens if someone has been grinding a lot for a long time)
- Your bed partner hears it
Why is it bad to grind your teeth?
Tooth grinding can cause:
- Tooth damage: heavy wear, chipping, breaking
- Loss of teeth
- The strain on the muscles and joints you use to eat and talk (think of it as an intense and heavy workout for your jaw muscles, leading to jaw and face pain and headaches)
- Sleep disruption (leading to tiredness and/or feeling unrefreshed and less alert)
How do you stop grinding your teeth?
Stopping grinding takes effort from two sides: finding and managing the cause and protecting the teeth.
You can’t always stop yourself from clenching or grinding, especially if you do it in your sleep. But it’s a good idea to:
- Practice mindfulness and stress reduction techniques
- Avoid jaw muscle-heavy activities, like chewing gum or clenching during the day
- Visit a sleep medicine doctor if necessary
For protection, a dentist may recommend a night guard to cushion teeth and prevent further damage. Some healthcare providers recommend medication or muscle injections if muscle soreness and headaches become an issue. Physical therapy and Gentle stretching (think of it as yoga for the face), is another helpful way to address the issue.
What do people ask you about teeth grinding?
How can I prevent grinding my teeth?
There is no foolproof way to prevent grinding. There are a few things you can do to reduce your risk:
- Find healthy ways to cope with stress, like stretching exercises or relaxation techniques
- Avoid triggers, like coffee or alcohol, especially before bed
- See a dentist regularly to catch any signs of grinding early
The bottom line about teeth grinding: The earlier it’s diagnosed, the higher the chance of preventing future teeth problems and keeping you happy and healthy.
Daria Vasilyeva, DDS, Assistant Professor at Columbia University's College of Dental Medicine in the Division of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology