While it’s perfectly normal to grit your teeth from time to time, teeth grinding as a regular habit can be incredibly destructive. Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, affects approximately one in three adults and children in the U.S. Grinding comes in two different forms: awake teeth grinding and grinding teeth while sleeping. Both can cause significant damage to the teeth and the jaw.

What causes people to grind their teeth?

Ranging from mild grinding while sleeping to 24/7 jaw clenching and teeth gnashing, it has many different causes. Some causes are specific to children, but most apply to all ages.

Stress and anxiety

Possibly the most common cause of both awake and sleep teeth grinding is stress and anxiety, with only a difference in which gender is affected and when.

For example, whereas men save their stress-related grinding for nighttime, women tend to grind their teeth during the day in response to stress.

Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a nighttime condition when a sleeper will stop breathing periodically.

Awakening with a sharp intake of air, this condition is often accompanied by teeth grinding.

Medication

It is a tragic irony that many medications designed to treat one issue often cause problematic symptoms of another.

Because tooth grinding is related to actions in the central nervous system (CNS), it makes sense that any medications that affect that area of the brain would contribute to it. Anti-depressants such as the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), and Paxil (paroxetine) are linked to an increase in bruxism, as are antipsychotics.

The very medications prescribed to help you feel better can add to your discomfort in other ways.

Chronic pain

Those who suffer from chronic pain may be adding to it by clenching their teeth as a reaction.

This may be perfectly normal as an initial response to acute pain, but once the pain becomes chronic (lasting three or more months) grinding of the teeth can become an entrenched habit that leads to even more pain in the neck, jaw, and shoulders.

Poor bite alignment

For children, poor bite alignment as they grow can be a significant cause of teeth grinding.

Children may experience pain as a result of teeth that are coming in crooked or causing them to bite down in a misaligned way. This can cause grinding to increase during the day as they eat and talk. Most children will grow out of this as their bite is repaired, but some will carry the habit into adulthood.

What are common teeth grinding symptoms?

Common teeth grinding symptoms may begin as a mild irritant and progress to debilitating as the behavior continues.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Pain: Pain is a common symptom that can occur in a variety of places. Many people feel pain or soreness in their temporomandibular joint where the lower jaw connects to the skull. Others might experience neck and shoulder pain. Wherever it occurs, pain can be mild or severe, depending on the extent of the grinding.
  • Migraine: Another form of pain that people may not connect to grinding of the teeth is migraine headache. This symptom can occur at any age and is often overlooked.
  • Swelling and redness in the face: Over time, grinding can actually result in swelling and redness in the face. Muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the jaw become inflamed. The side of the face may even feel warm to the touch.
  • Uneven or accelerated tooth wear: This may be the one definitive teeth grinding symptom that leads your dentist to a diagnosis of bruxism. As you grind your teeth, they will begin to exhibit an uneven or accelerated wear pattern.
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold: As teeth wear down, nerves in the dental pulp may become exposed. These nerves can be more sensitive to hot and cold beverages (and even your favorite sweets!).
  • Cracked, fractured, or broken teeth: Constant grinding pressure on teeth can result in cracks and even broken teeth. Cracks and fractures can lead to other significant dental issues, such as abscessed tooth.
  • Decreased range of motion: As grinding of the teeth progresses, swelling and pain may begin to limit mobility in your jaw. This can lead to pain and difficulty in speaking and eating.

If you tend to grind your teeth at night, symptoms will be worse in the morning, easing as you move through your day. If you mainly clench your jaw and grind your teeth during the day, you may experience intense symptoms right as you lay down for bed.

How do I stop grinding my teeth?

One of the first steps you can take to treat your teeth grinding is to pinpoint the cause. If you are finding that stress and anxiety is causing your teeth grinding symptoms, focusing on eliminating stress can help.

Teeth grinding treatment includes a variety of possibilities, including:

  • Stress management
  • Chronic pain treatments
  • Managing your medications
  • Using a mouth guard

Stress management

Meditative exercise such as yoga and t’ai chi or a daily meditation practice can help you to manage stress-related grinding.

Other stress management options include using alternative medical treatments to relieve daily stress and tension. They may include:

  • Hot and cold therapy
  • Aromatherapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Massage

In some cases, talk therapy can also help with this condition.

Treat chronic pain

If there is an undiagnosed chronic pain condition that needs attention, getting help for that can also help decrease grinding of your teeth.

Manage your medications

If your teeth grinding is related to medication, talk to your doctor about switching to a different medication. There are many different options out there for depression and anxiety. If your SSRI is causing you to grind your teeth, think about trying another one.

When it comes to medications though, always talk to your doctor before making any changes.

Use a mouth guard for teeth grinding

For some people, grinding is a deeply entrenched behavior that is difficult to stop. While other teeth grinding treatments are being explored, ask your dentist about a prescription mouth guard for teeth grinding.

These thin, custom-made dental appliances gently hold the jaw in proper alignment and prevent further damage from sleep grinding.

For a full examination and a rundown of your options for teeth grinding treatment, call your Phoenix area family dentist at AZ Dentist today!