Most people clench or grind their teeth from time to time. When
this becomes a habit, usually triggered by stress or anxiety, it is known as
Bruxism can cause permanent damage to your teeth and can trigger
other symptoms such as earaches, jaw pain, and headaches.
Bruxism typically occurs during the night and is known as sleep bruxism. Bruxism that occurs
during the day, usually subconsciously, is known as awake bruxism.
Bruxism that occurs on its own and is not triggered by any other
medical condition is known as primary
bruxism. Secondary bruxism occurs
as a result of another condition or of medication.
What Causes Bruxism?
More than 70 percent of bruxism occurs because of stress and
anxiety. It usually occurs subconsciously while you are asleep. However, other
things can lead to it, including the possible causes described below.
Bruxism can occur as a side effect of a number of drugs, most
commonly antidepressants, antipsychotics, and psychotropic drugs.
The most common type of medications to cause bruxism are
selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, a type of antidepressant.
Common medications in this category include paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline (Zoloft).
If you suffer from an occlusal discrepancy, meaning your top and
bottom teeth don’t meet correctly, you may be more likely to suffer from
bruxism. This can occur if you have missing teeth or crooked teeth. Bruxism
caused by jaw problems may stop once your jaw issue is corrected.
Certain lifestyle choices can increase your chances of suffering
from bruxism, including a high intake of alcohol, taking recreational drugs,
and smoking large amounts of tobacco.
How Is Bruxism Treated?
Treatment for bruxism aims to reduce any pain you are feeling,
prevent damage to your teeth, and reduce clenching and grinding as much as
Your dentist is likely to prescribe a mouthguard or a splint, a protective
dental appliance, to protect your teeth from further damage. There are several
styles of mouthguards available that can fit your mouth in different ways. Your
dentist will choose the type most likely to fit your mouth while offering the
greatest protection to your teeth.
The aim of a mouthguard is to protect your teeth and prevent
clenching while holding your jaw in a more relaxed position. Wearing the guard
should not be painful. If one type of mouthguard doesn’t work, you should try
another until you find one that is comfortable and resolves your bruxism.
If a splint or guard doesn’t work, your dentist may recommend
orthodontic adjustment, such as braces or surgery, to correct misaligned teeth.
However, these are very uncommon treatments for bruxism and may not resolve the
There are a number of ways you can treat the side effects of
bruxism yourself. They include icing your jaw muscles to relieve pain, avoiding
hard foods, and relaxing your facial muscles periodically during the day.
Stress management techniques like relaxation therapies and
deep-breathing exercises are beneficial as well.
Breaking the Habit
In some cases, bruxism may stop once you have learned to break
the habit. For instance, you might break the habit through learning relaxation
techniques and holding your jaw in a more relaxed position. Once daytime
bruxism has subsided, sleep bruxism is likely to improve as well.
What Are the Potential Complications of Untreated Bruxism?
Bruxism can lead to severe tooth pain and, if left untreated, can
trigger eating disorders. Your teeth and jaw will become more sensitive and feel
more pain. This can lead to depression and insomnia. Bruxism can also lead to ear
pain, headaches, jaw pain, abnormal wear on teeth, fractures or broken teeth,
tooth mobility, and inflamed and receding gums if left untreated.
What Is the Long-Term Outlook for Bruxism?
Bruxism can often be resolved and further damage to your teeth
can be prevented by learning strategies to cope with stress and anxiety. This
can be done in a variety of ways, including exercise, talk therapy, and
breathing and relaxation techniques.
Even after your bruxism has been treated, it’s important to visit
your dentist regularly. They can spot signs that your bruxism has returned
before you are aware of it.