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Everything You Need to Know About Bruxism or Grinding Your Teeth

Oral health is a crucial, but often overlooked aspect of our overall well-being. Many of us visit the dentist only when in pain, but bruxism wears down your teeth over time and can be difficult to spot. In this article, you will learn how to protect yourself from the damaging effects of grinding your teeth.

Visual guide to Bruxism - Understanding and Managing Teeth Grinding, providing comprehensive insights into causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention.

When did you last feel tense? Perhaps you had an upcoming presentation, needed to pass an important test, or were dealing with family issues. Do you remember how your body felt? Common symptoms of stress include mental distress, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and muscle tension—especially in the jaw. Those who suffer from bruxism discharge tension by grinding their teeth, often without noticing they’re doing it.


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What is bruxism?

Do you sometimes tense up when you feel stressed or angry? One place that tension often goes is your jaw. We all clench our teeth occasionally, but when it becomes a regular thing, it’s called bruxism.

Studies show that 10–15% of people suffer from chronic bruxism, a leading cause of jaw pain and prematurely worn tooth enamel.

There are two types of bruxism:

Daytime bruxism 

Daytime bruxism easier to treat because you can train yourself to notice when you clench your jaw and consciously relax it.

Nocturnal bruxism

Nocturnal bruxism is more challenging to address because you can’t control the pressure you apply to your bite while you’re sleeping.

What causes bruxism?

In most cases, awake bruxism is a physiological response to acute stress, anger, or anxiety. The best way to cure awake bruxism is to become mindful of your body’s stress reactions and to adopt proactive self-soothing practices.

Sleep bruxism, however, is involuntary. Research shows that it originates with disturbances in the central nervous system while we are unconscious. It usually occurs during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Although during REM sleep, you’re in a state of muscle atonia, which keeps you from acting out your dreams, smaller muscles, for example, those that control the eyes and the jaw, remain reactive to spiking brain activity and emotion.

Other factors that increase the risk of bruxism include:

  • feeling anxious, stressed, frustrated, worried, or in pain
  • being prone to competitiveness
  • sleep deprivation
  • an imbalance in brain neurotransmitters
  • taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • using alcohol, tobacco, or recreational drugs
  • consuming too much caffeine

Caffeine tolerance has a genetic component. Drinking six or more cups of coffee a day can increase sleep disturbances in anyone, but even one or two cups can spike a stress response in those who are more sensitive to stress and caffeine.

What are the consequences of bruxism?

Chronic bruxism is a serious condition that can lead to tooth decay, chronic jaw pain, and migraines. Unfortunately, it can be hard to spot, so most people realize they have been grinding their teeth at night for years only when they notice significant wear or start suffering from jaw pain or headaches. If you share a bedroom with someone else, they might notice before you do. Visit your dentist ASAP if you notice any of the following signs:

  • tension in the masseter, or main jaw muscle, and surrounding ligaments
  • temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, pain
  • dislocation or locking of the jaw
  • small grooves or discoloration at the surface of your teeth indicating wear
  • fractured teeth
  • loose teeth
  • tooth sensitivity
  • tooth pain
  • a change in your facial features

Visual guide to Managing or Curing Bruxism, offering insights into strategies and solutions for addressing teeth grinding

Managing or curing bruxism

The good news is that there are many ways to protect your teeth and jaw muscles from the effects of bruxism and perhaps even stop it from happening.

Wear a mouthguard

Custom fitted from the dentist, direct-to-customer bite kits, DIY boil&bite, or one-size-fits-all, mouthguards are a popular remedy for the effects of bruxism. They protect your tooth enamel and dental work from grinding and wear. They do not, however, provide a cure. Wear a guard on either your upper or lower teeth, at night or during the day. To avoid additional problems, choose a guard made from inert materials, ensure it fits properly, and clean it thoroughly after each use.

Get Botox injections

The botulinum neurotoxin is used not only to reduce wrinkles but also to treat a number of medical conditions, including bruxism. Botox is injected into your jaw muscles to stop them from clenching during sleep. A single treatment can be effective for up to three months.

Use a muscle relaxant

There is a wide range of drug therapies that can be used to address bruxism in the short term, including over-the-counter drugs such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and prescription drugs such as sedatives, corticosteroids, or anti-depressants. Consult your doctor for a recommendation to suit your particular needs.

Schedule a reductive coronoplasty

This dental procedure to reshape and level the teeth can be beneficial for those who suffer from bruxism due to misaligned, crowded, or crooked teeth.

Try biofeedback

This non-invasive therapy supplies information about your body through electrodes that measure various physiological parameters such as heart rate, body temperature, brain activity, galvanic sweat response, and blood oxygen. There are various biofeedback systems that can now be purchased for home use and can be effective in helping you understand and manage your stress. However, to measure jaw muscle activity specifically, you may need a clinical setting.

Learn stress management techniques

As most cases of bruxism are attributed to stress, learning stress management techniques can help. Whether you address the causes, go to therapy, meditate, or find other ways to alleviate the tension in your life, stress management can be a long-term solution for protecting your mouth and teeth.

Try jaw massage and facial exercises

Many people who suffer from sleep bruxism also grind their teeth during the day, in which case the jaw muscles are tight pretty much all the time. Jaw massage can relax the muscles and prevent them from clenching. Use your index and middle fingers to massage your face and neck, starting with the TMJ and working down to the shoulders. This can be done at any time but can be especially helpful before sleep.

Face yoga or mouth exercises can also help. Try opening your mouth widely and placing the tip of your tongue in front of your teeth for a few seconds. Yawning with your mouth wide open also relieves tension.


Support your circadian rhythm

Exercise reduces stress and allows you to sleep better at night. Physical activity during the day improves sleep quality because movement helps regulate the body’s circadian rhythm.

Go to sleep at the same time each night and take a few minutes to help your body prepare for bedtime. Evening yoga, stretching, meditation, breathing exercises, and positive affirmations can all help you relax and sleep more peacefully.

Improve your diet

Another common contributing factor to bruxism is magnesium deficiency. An estimated 15–20% of people in developed countries suffer from hypomagnesemia. If you also have fatigue, poor appetite, nausea, muscle cramps, or high blood pressure, add magnesium-rich foods such as leafy greens, avocadoes, dark chocolate, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole wheat to your diet, or consider taking a supplement.

Change your (bad) habits

Two of the main culprits contributing to bruxism are alcohol and tobacco. It would be best to stop smoking altogether because of the myriad harmful ways it can damage your health. And while past studies have claimed that moderate drinking may confer some health benefits, more recent research shows that it’s best to avoid alcohol altogether, especially when experiencing stress. While having a drink feels good in the moment, alcohol use impairs your ability to cope with the real cause of a problem.

Bruxism and the menstrual cycle

If you thought the list of period- and PMS-related symptoms was long, add mouth problems to it. While grinding your teeth isn’t directly linked to hormonal fluctuations, oral health can decline before your period starts. Some people report that their gums become more sensitive, inflamed, or even start bleeding at the end of the cycle. This is called menstruation gingivitis. As hormone levels drop right before your period, sensitive tissues in your mouth become more delicate and more prone to developing gingivitis, painful ulcers, or canker sores.

But what about bruxism? While there’s no direct link, those suffering from premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) experience extreme PMS symptoms, including severe cramping, mood swings, anxiety, depressive thoughts, and other intense symptoms. If you suffer from PMDD, you might also grind your teeth in the days leading up to your period because of elevated stress.

Final thoughts

Bruxism is a common condition, but one that shouldn’t be overlooked. Although relatively benign in the short term, its long-term effects can be significant. In most cases, stress is the main culprit or at least a contributing factor. Even if you fix the problem medically, it’s worth taking the time to understand the underlying cause as stress will also affect other areas of your life. Develop your own methods to manage stress, reduce anxiety, and prevent bruxism in the long run.

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