What Is Bruxism? The Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

BY Dr. McDowell  |  February 20th, 2023
Dr. McDowell
Dr. McDowell has always been focused on using the latest technology to improve the patient experience. From radiation-free imaging to laser dentistry, he has always been ahead of the curve and is dedicated to improving the practice of dentistry one ..

While it’s common to clench your jaw when feeling stressed or angry, it’s a little less common to clench your jaw and thrust it forward repeatedly every day. The same goes for grinding your teeth — especially grinding your teeth at night.

If you find that you’re either clenching or grinding often or seem to always wake up with a sore mouth, it’s highly likely that you’re suffering from bruxism. In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the different types of bruxism, how it’s treated, and why you shouldn’t think twice about addressing it.

What Exactly Is Bruxism, and Why Is it Harmful?

Put simply, bruxism is a disorder in which a person unconsciously grinds or clenches their teeth. It’s estimated that those with bruxism clench or grind down with a bite force that’s six to eight times greater than average.

The clenching and grinding can occur throughout the day, night, or both, and it can end up causing pain or soreness in various parts of your mouth, such as:

Constantly grinding your teeth can also cause several other problems aside from aches and jaw pain. People that have bruxism can eventually end up with:

It should be noted that bruxism isn’t necessarily a dangerous disorder. However, when left untreated, the damage it causes can end up being permanent. Permanent damages, such as loss of tooth enamel can cause other oral issues that require extensive and costly treatments.

What Are the Different Types of Bruxism?

The severity of bruxism can range from mild to severe. As mentioned earlier, it can occur at different times of the day. Because of this, bruxism is divided into two separate disorders:

Awake Bruxism

bruxism clenching jaw at work

When someone with the disorder clenches their jaw and grinds their teeth during the day, it’s referred to as “awake bruxism”. This type of bruxism is usually linked to emotional issues, including stress, anxiety, and anger. Of course, concentrating too hard can also cause a person to tense up.

Most dental professionals agree that awake bruxism doesn’t always require treatment. In most instances, if you can catch yourself grinding or clenching, you can stop yourself from doing it. Additionally, stress management techniques can help break the physical habit or at least lessen the frequency in which it occurs.

Sleep Bruxism

When someone does the above in their sleep, it’s referred to as “sleep bruxism” and is also classified as a sleep disorder. Sleep bruxism is considered to be much more serious as you’re unaware of what’s happening. This means that you’re also unaware of just how strongly you’re clenching your jaw and teeth at the time.

People with sleep bruxism can easily use up to 250 pounds of bite force, which can lead to noticeable jaw pain, teeth problems, and headaches throughout the day.

What Are the Causes of Teeth Grinding?

It is not yet known what exactly causes bruxism. However, there are several reasons why you may be grinding your teeth:

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of the Disorder?

bruxism jaw pain issues

Bruxism can often look like other conditions or health problems. If you have sleep bruxism, it may not even occur to you that something as obvious as waking up with a sore jaw or a headache is due to grinding your teeth all night.

The most common signs and symptoms of bruxism typically include:

The other physical problems mentioned earlier, such as tooth loss, are typically signs of untreated bruxism.

Who Is At Risk for Bruxism?

Bruxism is fairly common, affecting roughly 15%-40% of all children and 10% of all adults. It also affects both men and women at nearly the same rate. Sleep bruxism can occur as early as four years of age, but doesn’t typically peak until ages 10 through 14. Awake bruxism, on the other hand, is more commonly diagnosed in adults.

Oral health specialists have pointed out that there are certain personality types with a higher risk of developing bruxism. For example, individuals with nervous tension (pain, anger, frustration) or individuals that have more hurried, competitive, and aggressive tendencies, are more likely to develop the disorder.

There is also some evidence that bruxism is caused by an imbalance in brain neurotransmitters in some individuals. Essentially, the factors that contribute to your risks of developing bruxism can come down to the following:

Bruxism in young children typically occurs due to:

While bruxism is more common in children, it usually goes away by adulthood. However, if your child is exhibiting the signs and symptoms of the disorder, it’s still imperative that you have them examined by a dentist to prevent harm to their oral and overall health.

How Is Bruxism Diagnosed and Treated?

bruxism getting diagnosed at dentist

Bruxism is typically diagnosed based on the symptoms discovered during your physical exam. Your dentist will carefully evaluate your TMJs, teeth, and jaw muscles for the signs of the disorder and make a decision based on what they see.

X-rays may also be required, and in some instances, they may also recommend a sleep study referred to as polysomnography. Polysomnography is a more extensive exam conducted at a sleep center, and it’s used to make a more conclusive diagnosis of bruxism.

If you are diagnosed with bruxism, your dentist may do the following to treat it:

In most cases, bruxism can be successfully treated. However, your dentist will likely want to monitor your condition over the course of several visits to help determine the severity of your tooth grinding and the best course of treatment. Treatment will also be determined based on a variety of factors, including:

Grinding Your Teeth? It’s Time to See a Dentist

The damage that bruxism causes to your mouth over time can be painful and costly. If you suspect that you’re unconsciously grinding your teeth at night, or can’t seem to stop during the day, then it’s time to pay a visit to your dentist for a diagnosis and solution.

Don’t wait to seek treatment (and relief) for your bruxism. Schedule your appointment with us today so you can unclench your jaw for good.

Dr. McDowell
Dr. McDowell has always been focused on using the latest technology to improve the patient experience. From radiation-free imaging to laser dentistry, he has always been ahead of the curve and is dedicated to improving the practice of dentistry one ..