Teeth grinding (bruxism)

Teeth grinding and jaw clenching (also called bruxism) is often related to stress or anxiety.

It does not always cause symptoms, but some people get facial pain and headaches, and it can wear down your teeth over time.

Most people who grind their teeth and clench their jaw are not aware they're doing it.

It often happens during sleep, or while concentrating or under stress.


Symptoms of teeth grinding

Symptoms of teeth grinding include:

  • facial pain
  • headaches
  • earache
  • pain and stiffness in the jaw joint (temporomandibular joint) and surrounding muscles, which can lead to temporomandibular disorder (TMD)
  • disrupted sleep (for you or your partner) 
  • worn-down teeth, which can lead to increased sensitivity and even tooth loss
  • broken teeth or fillings

Facial pain and headaches often disappear when you stop grinding your teeth.

Tooth damage usually only happens in severe cases and may need treatment.

When to see your dentist and GP

See your dentist if:

  • your teeth are worn, damaged or sensitive
  • your jaw, face or ear is painful 
  • your partner says you make a grinding sound in your sleep

Your dentist will check your teeth and jaw for signs of teeth grinding.

You may need dental treatment if your teeth are worn through grinding to avoid developing further problems, such as infection or a dental abscess.

See a GP if your teeth grinding is stress-related. They'll be able to recommend ways to help manage your stress.

Treating teeth grinding

There are a number of treatments for teeth grinding.

Using a mouth guard or mouth splint reduces the sensation of clenching or grinding your teeth.

They also help reduce pain and prevent tooth wear, as well as protecting against further damage.

Other treatments include muscle-relaxation exercises and sleep hygiene.

If you have stress or anxiety, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may be recommended.

What causes teeth grinding

The cause of teeth grinding is not always clear, but it's usually linked to other factors, such as stress, anxiety or sleep problems.

Stress and anxiety

Teeth grinding is most often caused by stress or anxiety and many people are not aware they do it. It often happens during sleep. 

Medicines

Teeth grinding can sometimes be a side effect of taking certain types of medicine.

In particular, teeth grinding is sometimes linked to a type of antidepressant known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI).

Examples of SSRIs include paroxetine, fluoxetine and sertraline.

Sleep disorders

If you snore or have a sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), you're more likely to grind your teeth while you sleep. OSA interrupts your breathing while you sleep.

You're also more likely to grind your teeth if you:

  • talk or mumble while asleep
  • behave violently while asleep, such as kicking out or punching
  • have sleep paralysis, a temporary inability to move or speak while waking up or falling asleep
  • experience hallucinations, where you see or hear things that are not real, while semi-conscious

Lifestyle

Other factors that can make you more likely to grind your teeth or make it worse include:

  • drinking alcohol
  • smoking
  • using recreational drugs, such as ecstasy and cocaine
  • having lots of caffeinated drinks, such as tea or coffee (6 or more cups a day)

Teeth grinding in children

Teeth grinding can also affect children. It tends to happen after their baby teeth or adult teeth first appear, but usually stops after the adult teeth are fully formed.

See a GP if you're concerned about your child's teeth grinding, particularly if it's affecting their sleep.

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