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Prevent Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)

Do you suffer from painful jaws or experience headaches in the morning ? Does your spouse complain that you keep him or her up all night and they cannot sleep right? Have your teeth become more sensitive to cold , touch, or other stimuli ? If so you may be one of the millions of people who unknowingly suffers from bruxism (tooth grinding).

What is Bruxism ?

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Bruxism, commonly known as tooth grinding, is the the clenching together of the bottom and upper jaw accompanied by the grinding of the lower set of teeth with the upper set. Bruxism affects between 10-50% of the population depending on the particular study sited. Bruxism is a subconscious behavior so many people do not realize that they are doing it ! Often it is the partner who tells them about the nighttime sounds that their bruxism produces.

Although it can occur during the waking hours, bruxism most frequently occurs while we sleep. During sleep, the biting force (the force at which the jaws clench together) can be up to six times greater than the pressure during waking hours. Consequently, significant damage is much more likely to occur with this nighttime bruxism.

The Results of Bruxism

Bruxism can lead to pain and cause damage to gums and other oral structures. This includes:

  • Sore Facial Muscles, Headaches, and Ear-Aches
    The muscles used to chew food are the same ones responsible for bruxism. Consequently, these muscles often feel sore or tender in the morning. This may make the jaw feel tight or may cause pain when the sides of the mouth are touched. Often this muscle pain is referred meaning that it manifests itself as a headache, ear-ache, or neck pain.
  • Cosmetic Damage
    Bruxism can cause the teeth to be ground down becoming significantly shortened and creating cosmetic damage.
  • Sensitive Teeth
    As the enamel of the tooth is worn away by bruxism the underlying dentin layer of the tooth is exposed. This causes the tooth to become sensitive to cold, pressure, and other stimuli.
  • Fractured Teeth and Fillings
    The high pressure created from bruxism can fracture teeth and crack fillings.
  • Temporomandibular Joint Damage
    Bruxism can cause damage to the temperomandibular joint. This is the "hinge" which connects the lower jaw to the upper jaw allowing use to chew and talk.

Bruxism in Children

Tooth grinding is often seen in children. Children grind their teeth in response to the pain and discomfort of other ailments such as a colds or ear infections. Commonly, children grind their teeth to relieve the discomfort of allergies. Usually bruxism in children is a passing phenomena which they grow out of with no adverse effects to their teeth.

How to Treat Bruxism

If you suspect that you suffer from bruxism see your dentist. They can tell you if your symptoms are in fact due to bruxism. In most cases, they can create a custom mouth guard for you to wear while you sleep. The mouth guard takes the punishment that your teeth would normally endure during your bruxism. This will minimize the damage associated with bruxism.

Additionally, your dentist may help you properly position your teeth and tongue so as to reduce your bruxism. Reducing alcohol intake is also advisable since alcohol has been shown to worsen bruxism.

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It is now well known that stress and anxiety play the major role in causing bruxism. If you suffer from bruxism try to more effectively manage the stress in your life. By carefully monitoring and controlling the stress you can often dramatically reduce bruxism.


Treatment Approaches to Bruxism, Thomas, B.A., Blount, B.W., Krumholz, TS. American Family Physician, 49(7): 1617-22, May 15, 1994.

Grinding Down, Blore, D. Nursing Times, 91(26); 46-7, June 28-July 4, 1995.

An Overview of Bruxism and Its Management, Robert Attanasio, 41(2); 229-241, April 1997