5 Reasons You Clench and Grind Your Teeth and What to Do About It

Clenching and grinding teeth

Understanding why you clench and grind your teeth can help you find solutions.

Keeping your teeth and jaws healthy is all about prevention and comprehensive care. This doesn’t just mean working to prevent the most well-known issues like cavities and tooth decay, but knowing how to identify and seek help for those problems that are less well-known. 

Although bruxism is the leading cause of tooth sensitivity and can also result in dental injuries or premature wear on teeth, it’s not as well-known as other oral health issues. You may not have even heard of it before! Despite this, though, bruxism has been on the rise in recent years, affecting more and more people.

But what is bruxism and what causes it? Understanding details like this will help you recognize the signs of bruxism and will equip you with the knowledge you need to protect your teeth both now and in the future. To help you do just that, we’ve put together a guide on bruxism and several of its main causes.   

What is bruxism?

Bruxism is a condition where you habitually clench or grind your teeth together, often without even realizing you’re doing it. It can occur when you’re awake or when you’re asleep. Although they’re defined by the same actions, awake and asleep bruxism are often considered different conditions because they happen under different circumstances and can have different causes. Awake bruxism is usually considered more of a habit, coping strategy, or caused by other outside factors, while sleep bruxism is often categorized as a sleep disorder.

What causes bruxism?

Clenching and grinding teeth may sound like a simple habit, but there are several potential causes for each type of bruxism.

1. Stress and Anxiety 

When you’re stressed or anxious, it’s common to have some sort of conscious or unconscious habit that helps you express or redirect that energy. Some people pace or doodle to distract themselves, while others start clenching and grinding teeth. You might also find yourself clenching and grinding your teeth due to other similar negative emotions, like anger or frustration, or even simply when you’re concentrating. Even if you’re wide awake, you might not realize you’re doing it at first and may need to constantly remind yourself to stop.

2. Sleep Apnea

Although scientists and doctors aren’t sure why, there seems to be a link between sleep apnea and sleep bruxism. When you have sleep apnea, your body wakes you up slightly throughout the night to restore your airway, and these sleep apnea episodes tend to be followed by episodes of bruxism. The most popular theory about the link between these two conditions is that bruxism episodes are triggered by arousals during your sleep cycle.

3. Caffeine, Tobacco, and Alcohol

Caffeine can trigger awake bruxism by heightening anxiety, and all three substances can cause sleep bruxism by disrupting your natural sleep pattern. Caffeine does this by stimulating muscle activity even while you sleep, making you sleep more lightly or causing you to wake up more frequently throughout the night, both of which can trigger bruxism episodes. Alcohol and tobacco impact your brain chemistry with similar results, causing you to wake up frequently throughout the night, and are also linked to an increased risk of sleep apnea.

4. Malocclusion

A malocclusion, or misaligned bite, can put added stress on your jaw because it keeps it in a position that isn’t ideal. This can strain the muscles and joints, which can then lead to clenching and grinding teeth.

5. Family History

This cause is just as simple as it sounds. If sleep bruxism runs in your family, you’re more likely to suffer from it as well. It also seems to decrease with age, with the biggest percentage of people suffering from it in childhood and the smallest percentage in people who are over 65 years old.

What are the signs of bruxism?  

If you’re suffering from daytime bruxism, you likely realize you’re doing it. It’s often unconscious, but you probably catch yourself clenching and grinding your teeth frequently and have to force yourself to stop, perhaps only to realize you’re doing it again just a few minutes later. 

When you have sleep bruxism, though, you’re often not aware enough to catch yourself in the act, but other signs of bruxism will become apparent over time. After all, people with bruxism generally clench and grind their teeth with a surprising amount of force—six times greater than the usual amount of force. This can cause noticeable symptoms, including:

  • Tooth sensitivity.
  • Jaw pain or stiffness.
  • Lockjaw.
  • Worn down teeth.
  • Chipped, cracked, or broken teeth.
  • Muscle soreness in your face, jaw, and neck.
  • Frequent headaches.
  • Biting the inside of your cheek.
  • Fatigue from sleep disturbances.

You may not experience all of these symptoms at once with bruxism, but you’ll likely notice several. Knowing what to look for can help you get the help you need sooner.

How can you stop it?  

Thankfully, you can address bruxism in many ways, depending on what the root cause of your clenching and grinding teeth is. If the cause is anxiety or stress, learning to manage or treat your stress or anxiety can be transformative for your oral and mental health. This could mean learning to say no to obligations when they’re too much, building time for yourself into your schedule, practicing yoga or breathing exercises, or seeing a counselor. You should also consider quitting tobacco use altogether and cutting down on caffeine and alcohol use, including avoiding consuming either a few hours before bed.

If you have, or suspect that you have, sleep apnea, make sure you seek out a sleep specialist to get evaluated and treated. A sleep apnea diagnosis will not only likely improve your bruxism, but it will also help you stay healthier in the long run and will transform how you feel every day. 

Similarly, if the cause of your bruxism is a malocclusion, an orthodontic treatment like Invisalign can often improve or relieve your symptoms. Wearing a night guard to sleep, which is a custom-made mouthguard that is designed to help prevent bruxism and grinding teeth, can also help prevent soreness and dental injuries. It’s designed for comfort, so it’s easy to fall asleep in, helping you wake up feeling more well-rested.  

How is damage from bruxism fixed?

If bruxism has already damaged your teeth, there are plenty of teeth restoration treatments out there to help restore them and protect your teeth from future damage. Dental veneers and crowns are both common treatments that can reduce tooth sensitivity and restore chipped, cracked, broken, or worn-down teeth. If all your teeth are severely worn down, you can even get full mouth dental crowns to completely restore your smile. There are always options! 

If you’re not sure which treatment would be best for you, don’t be afraid to ask Dr. Enjati for recommendations! He can answer all your questions and help you determine which option is best for you.

Restore your oral health today with MASC Dental Studio.

Even though you may have never heard of it before, bruxism can have a huge impact on your oral health through dental injuries and long-term wear on your teeth. As a result, understanding this condition can help you identify it and learn how to protect your long-term oral health from its effects. If you’d like to learn more about bruxism or restoring damage from it using aesthetic family dentistry in Friendship Heights, feel free to schedule a consultation with Dr. Enjati at any time.