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What is bruxism?

Bruxism is the habit of unconsciously gritting or grinding the teeth, especially in situations of stress or during sleep. Bruxism can also include clenching or gnashing your teeth, usually unconsciously.

Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, can happen at any time, but it is more prevalent during the night. Those who suffer from this condition may not be aware of it until they begin experiencing symptoms or their dentist brings it up during a regular appointment.

Let’s break down everything you should know about bruxism:

What are the symptoms of bruxism?

If you've ever woken up with a headache or a sore jaw, unsure of why you felt this way, you may be experiencing symptoms of bruxism.

Around 15% of adolescents suffer from sleep bruxism. But don't worry. As you get older, the condition becomes less common. Only around 8% of middle-aged adults and 3% of older adults grind their teeth while they sleep.

Untreated bruxism can lead to dental issues, including:

  • Tooth pain or sensitivity

  • Worn enamel

  • Tight jaw

  • Chipped teeth

  • Tooth Damage

  • Headaches

  • Earache

  • Neck pain

  • Facial pain

  • Sleep problems

  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders

Types of bruxism

There are two types of bruxism—awake and asleep.

Awake bruxism, also known as diurnal bruxism, happens during the day. On the flip side, asleep bruxism, known as nocturnal bruxism, occurs during sleep and can be challenging to catch in action.

Awake bruxism

Awake bruxism can stem from anxiety, stress, concentration and anger. While it may not cause significant damage because you can stop yourself as soon as you realize you're doing it, awake bruxism can lead to pain in the jaw muscles and joints, which can be uncomfortable.

Asleep bruxism

Asleep bruxism is the more common of the two. Since it happens when you sleep, you may not even know you're grinding or clenching your teeth. The telltale signs of this condition include waking up with a headache, tooth sensitivity, or jaw pain. If left unchecked, asleep bruxism can cause significant damage to your teeth.

Bruxism complications

The repeated pressure and friction from bruxism can lead to severe complications beyond tooth damage. Let's delve into some of the significant complications that can arise from untreated bruxism.

Tooth damage

Teeth grinding can wear down the teeth' enamel, making them more vulnerable to decay and cavities. The constant pressure and friction may eventually lead to chipping, cracking and tooth loss. The most common damage from bruxism is flat and worn-out teeth that change the bite alignment. The result is an uneven bite that potentially causes more teeth to become damaged, leading to more extensive dental work.

Facial or jaw pain

Bruxism causes immense pressure on the jaw joint and muscles, creating a constant strain that may lead to facial and jaw pain. Some patients report tenderness in the jaw muscles, which can also extend to the neck and shoulders. The pain can lead to difficulty speaking, eating, or sleeping.


Teeth grinding puts pressure on the muscles of the face, neck and head, resulting in headaches. The pain could become chronic as the muscles remain tense over an extended period, leading to migraines or tension headaches. The headaches might also extend to the temples or behind the eyes.

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction

The TMJ is responsible for the opening and closing of the jaw, allowing for smooth mealtimes and speech. Bruxism has been known to cause issues with the TMJ leading to limitations in the jaw's range of motion. Jaw pain, ringing in the ears and clicking or popping sounds in the joint are common TMJ dysfunction symptoms.

What are the causes of bruxism?

Doctors aren’t entirely sure what causes bruxism. However, medical professionals believe that physical, psychological and even genetic factors play a role in the development of bruxism.

Here are a few theories for the causes of bruxism:

  • Anxiety and stress: When anxious or stressed, people may clench their jaw or grind their teeth to deal with the tension.

  • Genetics: Bruxism can also be hereditary, so if your parents or grandparents ground their teeth, you may be more likely to do so too. Some medical conditions that can be genetic, such as Parkinson’s disease, have also been linked to an increased risk of bruxism.

  • Sleep Apnea: Sleep apnea is a condition that causes a person to stop breathing for brief periods during sleep. This can lead to bruxism as the person may clench their jaw or grind their teeth to keep their airway open.

  • Medications: Stimulants like caffeine and amphetamines can increase muscle tension and lead to teeth grinding. Some antidepressants and antipsychotics can also cause bruxism—you should always take your medication as your doctor advises but make sure to see a dentist to treat your bruxism.

  • Smoking: Smoking is also a risk factor for bruxism, as it can contribute to sleep problems and increase stress levels

  • Misaligned teeth: When teeth are not correctly aligned, it can put undue stress on the jaw muscles, leading to clenching and grinding.

How to treat bruxism

  • Mouth Guards: A mouth guard is a device worn over the teeth to prevent them from grinding against each other. Mouth guards are available over the counter, although getting one custom-made by your dentist is usually best.

  • Sleep Studies: Sleep studies are recommended for people with bruxism who also have sleep disorders like sleep apnea. During a sleep study, you'll be monitored in a sleep lab to determine if you have any underlying conditions causing your bruxism.

  • Change Lifestyle Habits: Certain lifestyle habits, such as alcohol, smoking and excessive caffeine intake, can contribute to bruxism. Therefore, changing these habits may help reduce the severity of the condition.

  • Jaw Exercises: There are exercises to strengthen the muscles in your jaw, which can help reduce clenching and grinding. Your dentist or a physical therapist can help you find the right exercises for you.

  • See Your Dentist: If you think you may suffer from bruxism, it's essential to see your dentist. The dentist can examine your teeth and jaw to see if there's any damage and create a treatment plan.

Motto™ aligners can help protect you from teeth grinding

Ultimately, bruxism can have an incredibly destructive impact on your oral and overall health. If you think you may be grinding your teeth, speaking to your dentist about your concerns is crucial. They'll be able to diagnose if you are suffering from bruxism and offer advice on the available treatments. With the right help, you could take steps toward improving your general health and protecting your teeth from the dangers of grinding.

Interested in learning more about ⁠how clear aligners work and can help protect your teeth from bruxism? With Motto™ aligners, you can protect your teeth from bruxism because they're designed to fit comfortably over each tooth, providing a cushion to help prevent grinding. You can take the first step towards safeguarding your pearly whites today!