Tooth Grinding: Causes and How to Relieve It

Tooth Grinding: Causes and How to Relieve It

Nov 16, 2018

The technical name for tooth grinding and jaw clenching is “bruxism,” and if you suffer from it, you know how painful and uncomfortable it can be. At Berkshire Family Dental in Washington, DC, we want to educate our patients on the condition and help relieve symptoms related to it.

What is bruxism?

There are two types of bruxism, sleep bruxism and awake bruxism, which are fairly self-explanatory. Sleep bruxism is more common and generally results in more damage to the teeth, jaw, and gums, but it is more likely to go unnoticed because it only occurs during sleep. Generally, the symptoms are noticed before the actual grinding is. If the case is mild, teeth grinding can occur for a short period and then disappear. Long-term bruxism can be chronic, requiring significant intervention to prevent extensive damage.

Symptoms of excessive tooth grinding

There are physical and oral symptoms associated with bruxism that can range from mild to severe.


  • Headache
  • Facial muscle pain
  • Earache
  • Shoulder tightness and stiffness
  • Cracking and popping in jaw movements
  • Sleep disruption, including that of a sleep partner


  • Abnormal tooth wear
  • Tooth fracture
  • Inflammation and/or recession of gums
  • Jaw misalignment
  • Loose teeth

Causes of tooth grinding

The exact cause of bruxism is unknown, but there are a variety of factors that can contribute to it, such as:

  • Sleep disorders
  • Lifestyle factors (e.g. alcohol consumption, smoking, caffeine intake)
  • Stress
  • Medication
  • Abnormal bite

Sleep disorders are the leading cause of tooth grinding, which helps explain why it more often occurs at night. Similar to sleep bruxism, daytime bruxism can be caused by misaligned teeth, a high-stress work environment, tension, or medications.

How to stop teeth grinding

There are generally two methods for treating bruxism – occlusal management through the use of devices to stop teeth grinding or behavioral management to change lifestyle habits or stress that could be contributing to the condition. The most common type of occlusal management is done with a night guard, which is worn during sleep to prevent the top and bottom rows of teeth from rubbing together. This relieves tension in the jaw muscles and protects the teeth from damage. Behavior management includes habit-breaking, destressing, lifestyle adjustments, and sleep therapy.

Teeth grinding in children

Children can also suffer from bruxism, though possibly from different causes. It may be a side effect of teeth coming in, a response to growing, or a response to anxiety and stress. If you believe that your child is grinding their teeth, it’s recommended to take them to see their pediatric dentist promptly to have it treated. In the meantime, some tips to reduce your child’s teeth grinding are to establish a bedtime routine, avoid caffeinated beverages close to bedtime, and limit medications with stimulants like decongestants and cough medicine.

Preventing teeth grinding

As the exact cause of teeth grinding is unknown, it is difficult to prevent against it absolutely. However, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your dentist at Berkshire Family Dental in Washington, DC as soon as you notice any signs that you may be grinding your teeth. Early intervention is very important to treating bruxism and minimizing its effects.

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