What causes teeth grinding? 11 possible conditions

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What Is Bruxism?

Most people clench or grind their teeth from time to time. When this becomes a habit, usually triggered by stress or anxiety, it is known as bruxism.

Bruxism can cause permanent damage to your teeth; it can also trigger other symptoms such as earaches, jaw pain, and headaches.

Bruxism typically occurs during the night and is known as sleep bruxism. Bruxism that occurs during the day, usually subconsciously, is known as awake bruxism.

Bruxism that occurs on its own and is not triggered by any other medical condition is known as primary bruxism. Secondary bruxism occurs as a result of another condition or medication.

What Causes Bruxism?

More than 70 percent of bruxism occurs because of stress and anxiety. It usually occurs subconsciously while you are sleeping.


Bruxism can occur as a side effect of a number of drugs, most commonly antidepressants, antipsychotics, and psychotropic drugs.

The most common type of medication to cause bruxism is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)—a type of antidepressant. Common medications in this category include paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline (Zoloft).

Lifestyle Choices

Certain lifestyle choices can increase your chances of suffering from bruxism. These include having a high intake of alcohol, taking recreational drugs, and smoking a large amount of tobacco.

Jaw Problems

If you suffer from an occlusal discrepancy, meaning your top and bottom teeth do not meet correctly, you may be more likely to suffer from bruxism. This can occur if you have missing teeth or crooked teeth. Bruxism caused by jaw problems may stop once your jaw issue is corrected.

How Is Bruxism Treated?

The treatment for Bruxism aims to reduce any pain you are feeling, prevent damage to your teeth, and reduce clenching and grinding as much as possible.


There are a number of ways you can treat the side effects of bruxism yourself. They include using ice packs on your jaw muscles to relieve pain, avoiding hard foods, and relaxing your facial muscles periodically during the day.

You may find that stress management techniques like relaxation therapies and deep-breathing exercises are beneficial as well.

Medical Care

Your dentist is likely to prescribe a mouth guard or splint (protective dental appliance) to protect your teeth from further damage. There are several styles of mouth guard available that fit in the mouth in different ways. Your dentist will choose the type most likely to fit your mouth and offer the greatest protection to your teeth.

The aim of a mouth guard is to protect your teeth and prevent clenching, while holding your jaw in a more relaxed position. Wearing the guard should not be painful. If one type of mouth guard does not work, you should try another type until you find one that resolves your bruxism and is comfortable.

If a splint or guard does not work, your dentist may recommend orthodontic adjustment, like braces or surgery, to correct misaligned teeth. These are very uncommon treatments for bruxism and may not resolve the problem.

Breaking the Habit

In some cases, bruxism may stop once you have learned to break the habit. This can include learning relaxation techniques and holding your jaw in a more relaxed position. Once daytime bruxism has subsided, sleep bruxism is likely to improve as well.

What Are the Potential Complications of Untreated Bruxism?

Bruxism can lead to severe tooth pain, and if left untreated, can trigger eating disorders. Your teeth and jaw will become more and more sensitive and very painful. This can lead to depression and insomnia. You may also find that your bruxism begins to cause ear pain, headaches, and jaw pain if left untreated.

What Is the Long-Term Outlook for Bruxism?

Bruxism can often be resolved and further damage to your teeth prevented by learning strategies to cope with stress and anxiety. This can be done in a variety of ways, including exercising, talk therapy, and breathing and relaxation techniques.

Even after your bruxism has been treated, it’s important to visit your dentist regularly. He or she can spot the signs that your bruxism has returned before you may be aware of it.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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