Why do I grind my teeth in my sleep?

Teeth grinding (know is medical terms as bruxism) is a common condition that causes you to involuntarily and habitually grind your teeth or clench your jaw with excessive force, usually at nighttime during sleep.  (Although it can also occur during the day). It is estimated that 1 in 5 adults will experience bruxism at some point in their lives.

Because bruxism generally occurs during sleep it is highly possible that you won’t even realize you are doing it unless your spouse or partner actually hears the grinding and makes you aware of it. But there are some telltale signs to look for that could indicate that you may be grinding your teeth in your sleep, these include sleep disruption as well as waking up with a dull headache, chronic jaw pain, and increased tooth sensitivity.

The exact cause of bruxism is still not fully understood, but most medical experts agree that stress is the primary trigger and that teeth grinding is a subconscious attempt by the human body to decrease stress level.  Unfortunately, stress and teeth grinding can become a vicious cycle – since teeth grinding frequently disrupts your sleep and lack of sleep causes additional stress which in turn leads to more teeth grinding, and on and on it goes… While it is possible to only experience bruxism temporarily during especially stressful times, it is important to recognize the symptoms and be proactive in treating your teeth grinding before any permanent damage to your teeth occurs.

How can I tell if I am grinding my teeth?

As mentioned previously, some symptoms of bruxism can include extreme tooth sensitivity – you may notice your teeth hurt when you eat or drink something or even when brushing them because the friction of the grinding is causing the enamel to break down, exposing the nerves. Also, if you are waking up with a sore or fatigued jaw or a dull headache, this is a telltale sign. The jaw is capable of exerting more than 250 pounds of force when clenching which can cause distress on the temporomandibular joints (TMJ), these are the flexible joints found on each side your head in front of your ear, connecting your lower jaw to the temporal bone of the skull, resulting in headaches as well as pain in the neck and face.

Other things to look for…

Over time, excessive grinding can lead to more serious dental issues including loose teeth, micro-cracks, fractures, tooth loss as well as gum recession, infections and periodontal disease.  And if that’s not bad enough, 90% of bruxism sufferers also report experiencing one or more secondary symptoms that can include migraine headaches, vertigo, hearing problems and laryngitis. So the importance of treating your bruxism right away, cannot be overstated. 

What to do about your Bruxism

While there is no medication currently available to treat bruxism there are a number of things you can do to help mitigate the effects and avoid recurrence, the key again, is to be proactive to treat.

Don’t chew on pencils, fingernails or even gum as a stress reliever

You can actually be guilty of coaxing your jaw into a clenching position. How? If you have a habit of chewing pens, pencils or chewing gum during the day as a way to alleviate stress, you may be getting your jaw muscles used to the 'art' of clenching. Did you know that chewing gum in excess of two hours per day encourages jaw muscles to clench which may increase your chances of grinding your teeth when you are not chewing?   Unfortunately, your jaw may decide to repeat the action while you are sleeping.

Reduce your daily stress

Easier said than done but finding natural ways to reduce stress can help to minimize the effects of bruxism, these can include diet modification, exercise, and relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, and acupuncture. 

Limit consumption of certain substances

Certain prescription medications, tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine intake have all been linked to a potential increase in the likelihood as well as the level of intensity of bruxism.

Wear a dental grind guard when you sleep

Wearing a grind guard can be the single, most effective treatment in providing relief from the symptoms of bruxism. A dental grind guard provides a barrier between the upper and lower teeth, thus protecting the tooth enamel from rubbing together, preventing the negative effects of bruxism.  Grind guards are removable and generally worn only when needed (i.e., at night or while sleeping).

While there’s no cure for bruxism, the good news is you can minimize the pain and damage resulting from teeth grinding by recognizing its symptoms and taking steps to reduce its frequency and severity.