Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)

Bruxism is the medical term for grinding the teeth and clenching the jaw. People sometimes grind their teeth without it causing any symptoms or problems. But regular, persistent teeth grinding can cause jaw pain and discomfort and wear down your teeth. It can also cause headaches and earache.

Most cases of teeth grinding (nearly 80%) occur subconsciously during sleep. It's usually associated with contributing factors, such as stress or anxiety. Bruxism also affects people when they're awake, although this is more likely to be clenching the teeth and jaw, rather than grinding their teeth. Most people do it subconsciously while concentrating or when they're in stressful situations.

Many people with bruxism find it will come and go. It's likely to be worse during stressful periods.

What causes bruxism?

Bruxism almost always occurs in association with other factors. About 70% of bruxism cases that occur during sleep are thought be related to stress and anxiety. There's also an association between bruxism and obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). OSA is a sleep disorder where your breathing is interrupted during sleep. How bruxism and OSA affect each other isn't currently fully understood.

Teeth grinding can also be caused by taking antipsychotic and antidepressant medication, particularly a type of antidepressant known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Your lifestyle can also have an effect. For example, regularly drinking alcohol, smoking and using recreational drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine increases your risk of bruxism.

Doctors sometimes refer to teeth grinding caused by an underlying condition as primary bruxism. Teeth grinding associated with a medication, condition or lifestyle factors is often known as secondary bruxism.

Treating bruxism

There are a number of possible treatments for teeth grinding, but only a few have been shown to be effective. Behavioural therapies and the use of mouth guards or mouth splints can be effective in managing the symptoms associated with bruxism. Hypnotherapy can be extremely effective in reducing stress levels, getting to the root causes of anxiety, thus aliviating the symptoms.