The Teeth-grinders and Jaw-clenchers Guide to Understanding Bruxism

The Teeth-grinders and Jaw-clenchers Guide to Understanding Bruxism

Has your dentist ever asked you if you grind your teeth at night (or during the day “holding your teeth together”)? A lot of people are unaware that they have these habits so will often say no, but your dentist is skeptical by the looks of your teeth.  So, it is time to solve the mystery!

The proper term for unconscious teeth grinding, gnashing, or clenching while sleeping is bruxism.  It is a “centrally mediated” activity meaning that is starts and is completely controlled by the autonomic nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord).  This region is in charge of your automatic movements such as breathing, digesting, heart rate, etc.  Basically, the stuff that you don’t have to think about doing but you still do! Bruxism is a parafunctional habit meaning it is a habitual exercise of a body pat in a way that is NOT the most common use of that bad part.  Your jaw and teeth are used for eating, swallowing, and speaking…not necessarily for grinding your teeth against one another!

Bruxism is like sleepwalking, except you are on a treadmill with a 10% incline.  When you grind or clench your teeth you are actually exercising your chewing muscles causing those muscles to become larger! This is because the tooth grinding you do at night is much stronger than any conscious chewing you would do during the day. Grinding can cause intense stress on your teeth leading tooth grinders to run into a range of dental issues.  Tired or tight jaw and neck muscles, bruxismheadaches originating at the temples, soreness in the face, and indentations in the tongue are mild symptoms associated with teeth grinding.  Flattened, fractures, chipped or loose teeth, wearing down of the enamel, increased tooth sensitivity, and damage from chewing the inside of the cheeks are the most severe oral symptoms.

So, why does this happen?  It is speculated that teeth grinding at night can be caused by stress, diet, sleeping habits, and even alcohol and drug use.  But, to be honest, most doctors don’t really know what causes it!  Since the action is part of the autonomic nervous system, it is difficult to impossible to stop doing it.  You probably won’t even wake up from it! You partner, the kids, the dog, and the neighbor might wake up (okay maybe not the neighbor…) but you most likely will be fast asleep!

Custom mouth guards are great solutions for nightly teeth grinders

Wondering how this can all be prevented?  Well, since there is no official cure for bruxism, there are ways you can PROTECT your teeth from the damage it causes.  If you are a nighttime grinder it is important that you see your dentist so they can go over options that best suit your needs.  They might fit you for a protective appliance you can wear at night that not only protects your teeth, but it may also help you grind less intensely.  Daytime jaw clenching is best managed with either increased awareness or gum chewing, since when chew gum you don’t actually touch your teeth together. Sugar-free gum of course!

Did this article help you grind your gears about protecting your teeth? Do you feel like you need to talk to a dentist about a sore neck or jaw muscles? Then give DurhamDDS a call! We offer a generous helping of dental services for patients of all ages.  To set up an appointment call our office at 919-286-0779 or visit for more information.  Did you find this article helpful? Please like us on Facebook or +1 us if you are a gmail-er at the top of the page! Thank you!