the Australian Dental Association
Written by the Australian Dental Association, Oct 15, 2021
Fact Checked

Bruxism is the grinding or clenching of the teeth that is not part of normal chewing movements. It can lead to teeth becoming worn and may cause damage to the teeth and jaw joints. 

Bruxism can occur during the daytime or at night whilst sleeping. When grinding the teeth during sleep, the person has no conscious control over these actions. 

Many people may not be aware that they grind their teeth whilst sleeping, unless their partner tells them, or symptoms start to emerge.

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of teeth grinding can include:

  • Fractured, chipped or loose teeth.
  • A dull headache, sore jaws and/or ear pain.
  • Aching teeth, and stiffness in the face and temples, particularly in the morning after waking up.
  • Jaw joints become sore while eating.
  • Generalised sensitive teeth.
  • Intense jaw clenching.
  • Multiple cracked or broken fillings.
  • Tooth mobility
  • Temporomandibular disorders (TMD)

If you experience some of these signs or symptoms, it is best to consult a dentist who can provide an examination and any treatment that may be required.

Risk factors

Causes of teeth grinding have been related to both physical and psychological stressors.

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Caffeine
  • Snoring
  • Obstructive sleep apnoea
  • Drugs including antidepressants (SSRIs, SNRIs), antipsychotics, amphetamines (methamphetamine, MDMA), cocaine

If the source of your teeth grinding is emotional, it is important to deal with these issues. Contacting a support service can help. 
Contact Lifeline on 131 114, or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

Management

Not everyone who clenches or grinds their teeth will require treatment.


Remove the cause

One of the first steps in managing bruxism is to try and remove the cause. Therefore, risk factors that can cause bruxism should be avoided where possible.
 

Repair damaged teeth

Dental fillings, or crowns may be required to repair the damaged or worn tooth structure. Severe tooth wear can affect the appearance of teeth and a smile. In extreme cases, badly damaged teeth may need to be removed. 
 

Protect the teeth

For people with ongoing teeth clenching or grinding causing discomfort or tooth damage, a dentist may recommend an occlusal splint which works to protect the teeth from the effects of grinding when sleeping and decreases the symptoms such as discomfort from the muscles and jaw joint linked to the grinding.
 

Possible sleep apnoea

Sleep bruxism can be linked to obstructive sleep apnoea. Your dentist may recommend you be checked for this condition. This may involve being referred to a sleep physician or your general medical practtioner. 

Occlusal splints

An occlusal splint is also sometimes referred to as a bite splint, night guard or night mouthguard. An occlusal splint is made from hard plastic that fits over the upper or lower teeth, however it only covers part of the teeth, it does not cover the gums. It is different to a sports mouthguard.

Each splint is custom-made by a dentist to suit each persons individual needs.

An example of a type of occlusal splint that is worn at night whilst sleeping. Getty Images. 
 

An occlusal splint helps to protect teeth from wear and damage caused by involuntary teeth grinding or clenching. It also acts to relieve stress and strain on surrounding face and mouth muscles as well as the jaw joints. The splint will not stop the wearer from grinding but helps to take away the some of the signs and symptoms.

If you have an occlusal splint, be sure to take it to routine dental examinations for the dentist to ensure it is still working properly. If a splint no longer fits, becomes bent out of shape. worn or broken, it will need to be replaced. If certain dental treatments, such as multiple crowns to change the shape of teeth are completed after the occlusal splint was initially made, the splint may need to be replaced if it cannot be adjusted to fit back in the mouth.

At home, store an occlusal splint dry in a protective care. After wearing it, clean the splint with cool water and lightly brush the inside and outside surfaces with soft liquid soap and a spare toothbrush.

Just because a person grinds or clenches their teeth does not automatically mean an occlusal splint is required. It is best to talk with your dentist about your concerns, any symptoms you may be experiencing and whether a splint is the right treatment option for you.

Summary

Teeth grinding is a common condition that has many possible causes. Treating it early is important to avoid significant dental complications. Your dentist can assist in diagnosing and managing bruxism. If you know you grind your teeth, or if you suspect teeth grinding may be to blame for pain or other symptoms, see a dentist. Depending on the suspected causes, your dentist may recommend seeing your doctor for the treatment of an underlying condition.

Use the ADA's Find-A-Dentist search tool to find an ADA member dentist near you.