Am I clenching or grinding my teeth?

What is bruxism?

Bruxism is a habit that affects around 8-10% of the population. It is broadly characterised by grinding of the teeth and clenching of the jaw that causes tooth wear, crack-lines, breakage, disorders of the jaw (pain and limited movement) and headache. Bruxism occurs in both children and adults but is most common in 25-44 year olds. However, most people grind and/or clench their teeth occasionally to a certain degree.


Bruxism is classified into awake bruxism and sleep bruxism. Awake bruxism is characterised by involuntary clenching of the teeth and jaw bracing in reaction to certain stimuli. There is generally no tooth grinding with awake bruxism. Sleep bruxism is characterised by automatic teeth grinding with rhythmic and sustained jaw muscle contractions.

What causes bruxism?

Incorrect tooth alignment. If teeth are not in the correct position then it can lead to the teeth meeting in a different position. This leads to the muscles attached to the jaw being stretched in a way they are not comfortable and this can lead to muscular pains such as head and neck ache. The teeth receive a message from the brain indicating the discrepancy in the bite and try to grind their way to a more comfortable position. This in turn leads to more symptoms, and so in turn leads to more pain.
Stress. Just like mouth ulcers, cold sores and stomach ulcers all increase in propensity with onset of stress. The largest cause of bruxism is stress related.
Other conditions. There is a strong link to Obstructive Sleep Apnoea and patients who suffer from this also get episodes of bruxism in the night.
Stimulants. Regular users of alcohol, drugs, tobacco and caffeine (more than 6 cups a day). All of these stimuli can cause disturbed sleep which can result in increased occurrence of bruxism.

Effects of bruxism

Bruxism affects sufferers in many ways. Some of the adverse effects are short-term and disappear when the bruxism ceases. Others sadly, are long-term or even permanent.

Short-term effects of bruxism

Headache – Bruxism sufferers are three times more likely to suffer from headaches.
Facial myalgia (aching jaw & facial muscles)
Ear ache
Tightness/stiffness of the shoulders
Limitation of mouth opening
Sleep disruption
Sleep disruption of bed partner due to noise
Excess tooth mobility
Inflamed & receding gums
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (sometimes called TMJD)
Tooth wear & breakage
Long-term effects of bruxism

Is there an effective treatment?

There is wide debate in the dental community as to what is the best treatment. The most important part is that the patient is seen by the dentist and a thorough history is taken. This allows the dentist to identify most obvious reasons for this bruxism and the extent it impinges on the patient’s life.

Your dentist will discuss appropriate treatment options with you. These may include:

A dental device that covers the front teeth and protects the rear molars, to be worn at night
A specially designed mouth guard or repositioning splint to wear, usually at night, to correct the alignment of your jaw
Crowns or Onlays to give a new shape to the teeth biting surfaces
Occlusal equilibration to correct minor misalignments of your teeth
Orthodontic treatment to correct more significant misalignments of your teeth
Simple lifestyle changes, such as giving up smoking and managing stress.
Should you have any questions arising from the blog or would like to make an appointment to discuss your teeth grinding problems with Kam or Mary, then please contact us via our website or alternatively by phoning reception on 01608 811 095. We look forward to hearing from you.

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