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What Does It Mean If You Grind Your Teeth at Night?

October 06, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this story:

Sometimes when you’re feeling stressed or angry in the middle of the day, you may suddenly realize that you’ve been clenching your teeth together in response to your emotions. Some people clench their jaws or grind their teeth together at night as a reaction to their daytime stressors. They don’t always realize that they’re doing it, though, because they’re asleep.

During the pandemic, dentists have seen an increase in the number of their patients who report teeth grinding and jaw clenching, according to a survey conducted by the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute. The increase is believed to be related to the rise in stress levels throughout the pandemic.

If you clench or grind your teeth at night, you may or may not know that you’re doing it. Often, a sleep partner first alerts someone that they’re grinding their teeth.

“Sometimes, people have the condition diagnosed by a doctor or dentist, because teeth grinding – which is called bruxism – can cause tooth damage, discomfort or other symptoms which may send them to the doctor or dentist,” says dentist Christian Madsen, DMD.

Symptoms of nighttime teeth grinding

Some people who grind their teeth at night may wake up with:

Headaches

Jaw pain

Neck pain

Sore or sensitive teeth

Earaches

Over time, grinding your teeth at night may lead to problems, including:

Tooth pain

Tooth damage, including fractures, as teeth become worn down from the grinding

Loosened teeth

Gum soreness

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, which may cause jaw clicking, muscle pain and chewing difficulties

Who is at risk of nighttime teeth grinding?

Nighttime teeth grinding is a problem that runs in some families. It’s also more common in children than adults; many people who grind their teeth as kids or teens outgrow the habit over time. It’s less common as people age, with older adults doing it least frequently.

Adults who grind their teeth at night may be more likely to have certain health conditions, including:

Sleep apnea

Loud snoring

Acid reflux

Parkinson’s disease

Huntington disease

Additionally, people may be more likely to grind their teeth at night if they:

Smoke

Drink caffeinated beverages

Consume alcohol

Take certain types of prescription antidepressants

Use illegal drugs

Have misaligned or crooked teeth

Treatments for nighttime teeth grinding

A dentist may diagnose and treat nighttime teeth grinding, based on physical wear that they notice on the teeth, complaints about unpleasant symptoms or a combination of the two.

When people clench their teeth during the daytime, they can go for physical therapy or learn relaxation strategies to gradually quit the habit. However, these strategies don’t work when teeth clenching or grinding happens while someone is sleeping, because the habit is unconscious. Fortunately, there are other ways to manage nighttime teeth grinding.

Possible solutions for nighttime teeth grinding include:

Wearing a fitted mouth guard that prevents the teeth from rubbing together

Taking prescription muscle relaxants for a short time frame

Managing stressors in your life to reduce anxiety and stress

Learning relaxation training or other strategies to lower overall stress levels

Next Steps & Resources:

Meet our source: Christian Madsen, DMD, chair, Department of Dentistry, Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

To make an appointment with Dr. Madsen or a doctor near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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