Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at April 4, 2016

Bruxism or teeth grinding is a condition that affects 95% of Americans at some point in their lives. Many may not be familiar with the medical term but most are familiar with its symptoms.


Definition & Facts

Bruxism refers to the clenching or grinding of teeth, most often occurring at night. For the 20% of Americans who do not even know they have bruxism, the condition may never be the cause of deep concern; however, chronic tooth grinding may cause loose or fractured teeth and even tooth loss. Though bruxism is most commonly done during the night, daytime bruxism is not unusual, especially for those with high-stress occupations.

Symptoms & Complaints

Teeth grinding or clenching puts pressure on the tissues and muscles surrounding the jaw, which may create or contribute to one or more of the following symptoms:

Many times the complaint comes not from the grinder themselves, but from the grinder's partner who is awoken by the sound of the grinding. Symptoms may range in severity from person to person, and may even fluctuate individually based on the amount of stressors involved.


Though the cause of bruxism is debated upon and highly varied from person to person, the most common cause is related to stress and anxiety. When there is not an adequate release of built up tension or anger, the body can cope by grinding the teeth. Other causes of bruxism include jaw misalignment, malocclusion, missing or crooked teeth, sleep disorders, or side effects of medications.

Diagnosis & Tests

Because many of the symptoms of bruxism coincide with other disorders, a diagnosis from a dentist or doctor, rather than a self-diagnosis, is highly recommended. This is especially true due to the possibility that TMJ may also be occurring. One should make an appointment with a doctor or dentist if experiencing symptoms.

Once an appointment has been made, a dentist will more than likely take an X-ray and be able to provide the patient with a diagnosis based on jaw structure, bite alignment, and/or the appearance of the teeth.

Treatment & Therapy

The goals of treating bruxism involve reducing pain and clenching as well as preventing permanent tooth damage. There are many treatment plans that may be performed at home, but in more serious cases, a massage-based approach may be beneficial; the services which may prove the most helpful include trigger point therapy, neuromuscular therapy, or medical massage.

Many personal changes have proven effective as well. Stress management is a major part of treatment for this disorder. This will look different for everyone, but may consist of exercise (especially weight-bearing), deep breathing, meditation, journaling, or calming routines.

Other treatment tips include avoiding hard foods and chewing gum, applying ice or heat to sore facial muscles, practicing facial relaxation at regular intervals during the day, and getting recommended doses of sleep and water daily. Hypnosis may also be used as a treatment method, particularly when paired with intentional jaw relaxation.

Being fitted for a mouthguard (called occlusal splints) is another common treatment for patients. Dental surgery is considered an option only when every other treatment plan has failed.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

While treatment plans are effective for most people, preventing bruxism is preferable. Prevention may include checking the side effects of prescription drugs and avoiding those that list bruxism among the side effects.

Management of stress and anxiety are important preventative methods as is practicing good sleep hygiene. Allowing half an hour to an hour of relaxation before trying to fall asleep can lower the frequency or intensity of grinding.

In addition to this, avoiding food or drink before sleep may prevent grinding in certain people. Those with poor diet and hydration are also prone to bruxism, so eating a healthy diet filled with fruits and vegetables, minimal sugar, alcohol, and caffeine, and more water will both reduce stress on the body and reduce the risk of bruxism.

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