Welcome to our dental library. The information shared below is provided to you as an educational and informational source only and is not intended to replace a medical examination or consultation, or medical advice given to you by a physician or medical professional.

What is bruxism?

Bruxism is caused by the incessant gnashing or grinding of the teeth. The jaws are clenched tightly and the teeth slide back and forth over each one's opposite. Most cases are mild but the more serious ones may result in damage to the teeth, jaw problems and headaches. Bruxism often occurs at night and it is one of the most common sleep disorders. It may also occur during the day, often unintentionally and in inappropriate situations.

What causes bruxism?

The cause of bruxism has not been accurately established. However, the following factors have been associated with bruxism:

  • Disturbed sleep patterns and other sleep disorders
  • Consumption of caffeinated drinks and foods
  • Malocclusion
  • Response to pain in the mouth
  • High levels of blood alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Drug use
  • Medical disorders such as Huntington's and Parkinson's diseases
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Aggressive or competitive behavior
  • Hyperactivity

How can I recognize bruxism?

Signs and symptoms of bruxism may include any of the following:

  • Pain
  • Sore or painful jaw
  • Abnormal wear patterns on the teeth
  • Fractures in the teeth
  • Jaw clenching
  • Headaches
  • Head tingling
  • Earache
  • Stress, anxiety or tension
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Daytime sleepiness

How is bruxism diagnosed?

If you suspect you have bruxism, you should seek a consultation right away with your dentist. Your dentist will ask you your symptoms as well as check for obvious signs of bruxism. Dental X-rays may be necessary to help establish the extent of damage to the teeth. If no treatment is necessary at the time of consult, you may be ask to return for a follow-up checkup in order to see if your condition is progressive. The dental examination may detect other causes of the jaw or ear pain, such as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders. Treatment for this will be different than treatment for bruxism. However, if your dentist suspects that your condition may be psychological or sleep-related, he/she may refer you to a therapist, counselor or sleep specialist.

What treatment options do I have?

In many cases, no treatment may be necessary. Kids will outgrow bruxism and most cases of adult bruxism are mild. If treatment is necessary, it will involve pain relief as well as dental treatment.

Pain relief

To help relieve pain, there are many self-care steps you can take at home. For example:

  • Apply ice or heat packs to the affected area
  • Eat only soft foods
  • Drink plenty of water to remain well hydrated
  • Get plenty of rest and sleep
  • Massage your jaw muscles

Dental management

Your dentist or orthodontist may employ the following:

  • Mouth guard
  • Splint
  • Overlays or crowns

Additionally, treatment for bruxism may involve some degree of stress management and behavioral therapy. Medications may be unnecessary as they aren't very effective in the treatment of bruxism.

Lastly, botulinum toxin (Botox®) injections may be an option for severe cases of bruxism that hasn't responded to other treatments.