We all go through stressful times or experience anxiety at one point or another. And as we all know, there are a thousand different ways to respond when life throws you a curveball. If your response is to grind or clench your teeth, you’re not alone; involuntary grinding and clenching — also called “bruxism” — happens to children and adults alike when awake or, more commonly, when asleep. In fact, about 15-33% of children and about 8% of middle-aged adults experience dental grinding and clenching.

At Shoreline Dental Studio, we’ve had many patients come to us to learn how to stop clenching their teeth, and with good reason — bruxism can cause dental issues, pain, and other complications. However, if you’re not sure you have bruxism, let’s talk about it here so you have a better picture of the condition. We’ll cover:

  • What is Grinding and Clenching?
  • Grinding in Children
  • Grinding Causes
  • Signs & Symptoms of Grinding
  • Complications of Grinding
  • Bruxism Treatment

What Is Grinding & Clenching?

Typically, our upper and lower teeth come in contact with each other for about five minutes every day. Like when we chew or smile. This minimal pressure only results in slight wear on our tooth enamel over the years, or maybe a chip here or there if we accidentally bite down on something hard. At night, a small amount of mouth movement is normal during sleep: up to 60% of people occasionally make chewing motions during REM sleep, called “rhythmic masticatory muscle activities,” or RMMA.

So when is it considered bruxism? Simply put, bruxism is when you subconsciously grind or clench your teeth together, even when there’s no immediate stressor or external cause. Now, we should mention that there’s a difference between occasional and habitual grinding. If you’re only infrequently grinding at night or during the day, this might not have any adverse effects. But if you’re grinding in your sleep on a regular basis or it’s a constant daytime habit, your bruxism could be cause for concern. It can have a big impact on your oral health.

Bruxism Causes

What causes bruxism? There’s a variety of reasons: mental health, lifestyle habits, and even genetics can play a role. Understanding the cause can guide you when considering how to prevent teeth clenching.

Stress or Anxiety – As we mentioned earlier, stress and anxiety can lead to bruxism, and it’s safe to say that these are the two most common causes — whether when we’re awake or asleep. People are also known to do this as a reaction to fear or anger or if they have depression.

Unhealthy Daily Habits – Personal daily habits can also contribute to bruxism, such as heavy consumption of alcohol and caffeine or chronic smoking.

Sleep Conditions – If you have a sleep condition like snoring, sleep apnea, or moderate daytime sleepiness, you’re more likely to experience bruxism than those who don’t.

Genetics – If your family members also have bruxism, you might experience it, too. Studies have shown that sleep bruxism has a genetic component and can be hereditary. As many as half of the people who experience grinding at night have a close family member who also suffers from this condition.

Misalignment– It might seem obvious, but another cause of bruxism is your teeth themselves. When they’re misaligned, crowded, or crooked, proper alignment becomes difficult. If you have misaligned teeth, you might subconsciously try to fit them comfortably, grinding them together when you’re asleep.

Side Effects of Medications – Bruxism can also be a medical side effect of certain mental health medications like fluoxetine, venlafaxine, and sertraline, as well as some recreational drugs.

Bruxism in Children

Now, if your child is grinding their teeth and not you, we want to assure you that it’s not uncommon. As stated earlier on, 15-33% of children have had bruxism at one time or another. Children with bruxism often experience it when they’re gaining baby teeth or when adult teeth are coming in, and it typically happens at night. It can also caused by:

  • Improper alignment 
  • Irregular contact between the upper and lower teeth
  • Illnesses or medical conditions such as nutritional deficiencies, pinworms, allergies, or endocrine disorders
  • And, like adults, stress or anxiety

Grinding baby teeth is typically not a cause for concern. However, children can experience the same symptoms as adults, as listed below. So if your child’s teeth look worn or they complain of tooth pain or sensitivity, it’s best to bring them in to see us, your family-friendly dentist in Orange County, as soon as possible.

Signs & Symptoms of Bruxism

It’s usually not too hard for adults to realize when you’re grinding or clenching your teeth. Perhaps your sleep partner hears you, wakes up to the sound, and lets you know. But the most common symptom is pain, which ranges from dull to disruptive. Specific signs and symptoms include:

  • Increased tooth pain or sensitivity
  • Tired or tight jaw muscles or a locked jaw that won’t open or close completely
  • Jaw, neck, or face pain or soreness
  • Pain that feels like an earache, but your ears are healthy
  • Dull headache that starts in the temples
  • Sleep disruption

The classic teeth clenching headache isn’t the only red flag, though. A look inside your mouth can also reveal signs of bruxism. The chewing surfaces of your teeth might be flattened, or some might show fractures, chips, or feel loose. How about your tooth enamel? Does it look worn, or uneven, or can you see deeper layers or the dentin underneath? Be sure to examine the inside of your cheeks; sometimes, grinding includes chewing the inside of your mouth, causing abrasions and sores.

Complications of Grinding

So, we’ve answered the question, “What is bruxism?” Now you know what it is, what causes it, and you have a list of symptoms. Let’s now dive into what this issue could lead to in adults and children.

Dental Damage

It’s no surprise that bruxism can significantly impact your teeth and jaws — grinding and clenching exert an incredible force on teeth, jawbone, jaw joints, and facial muscles. Teeth can become damaged with chips, fractures, and flattened chewing surfaces, all of which are both painful and can change your chewing and biting abilities. If you have crowns, bridges, or fillings, these dental treatments can become damaged, and you might have to get them repaired or redone.

Change In Your Facial Appearance

Not only do the function and appearance of your teeth suffer, but grinding can also affect your facial appearance: in some instances, clenching and grinding causes enlarged jaw muscles that change the shape of your jaw and face.

TMJ Dysfunction

And the discomfort you’re feeling in your jaws? Bruxism can cause TMJ pain in the temporomandibular joints, which connect your jaw to your skull on either side of your face. Some experience TMJ pain as a mild ache or tenderness in their jaw joints, face, neck, and ears. Others have a clicking or popping in their jaw when opening and closing their mouth. Sometimes, there’s jaw muscle stiffness or a limited range of movement in the jaw, which can make it hard to chew or eat. You can also get arthritis in your jaw.

Bruxism Treatment: How To Stop Clenching Your Teeth

As with any dental issue, the first step is to see your dentist as soon as possible. The quicker you learn how to stop clenching your teeth during the day and at night, the less damage can happen. When you come for a consultation at Shoreline Dental Studio, Dr. Ritzau, Dr. Livingston, or Dr. Saad will examine your mouth for grinding symptoms — like the damage discussed earlier in this post: excessive or uneven wear, cracks, or chips. You’ll also talk about any jaw pain or headaches you’ve been experiencing. And, of course, because misalignment can cause bruxism, we’ll look at the relationship between your teeth to ensure they’re moving optimally when you chew.

Well, good news or not-so-good news first? The not-so-good news is that there’s no treatment that a dentist or doctor can provide that completely eliminates grinding and clenching. So, instead of asking how to stop grinding your teeth, we look at how to reduce it and minimize its effects. The good news is that we at Shoreline Dental Studio offer a variety of ways to help — treatment with dental appliances as well as suggestions and support for managing symptoms.

Mouthguard

A carefully calibrated mouthpiece or nightguard will stop symptoms of sleep bruxism and protect your enamel from further damage. Both upper and lower mouthguards exist, but we typically suggest an upper mouthguard for grinding. These products come in soft rubber, hard plastic, or a combination. In any case, a tooth grinding guard from us at Shoreline Dental Studio is customized to perfectly match your teeth, making it as comfortable as possible.

Dental Splints

These appliances are often prescribed for the TMJ pain that can happen as a result of clenching or grinding. A dental splint provides a barrier to lessen the impact and relaxes the jaw joint so it can heal. It distributes pressure evenly across your teeth and helps reposition your jaw into proper alignment. At times, it’s used as a first step in aligning teeth with orthodontic treatment. Your Orange County dentist can go over the different types of dental splints with you.

At-Home Symptom Relief

Managing the severity of your symptoms can go a long way in living with them day-to-day. A hot compress or ice pack held to your jaw can provide temporary pain relief, as can an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen.

Facial exercises help some people with tightness and pain in their jaw, face, and neck muscles. Facial relaxation or massaging the head and neck can further reduce tension. Ask us or your doctor for specific exercises you can try.

We also recommend avoiding gum and hard foods to reduce painful jaw movements. Or, if you have a habit of chewing on pencils or pens, focus on moving away from doing so. You can also try training yourself not to grind your teeth if you’re prone to daytime grinding. When you catch yourself grinding, stop and place the tip of your tongue between your teeth. This trains your jaw muscles to relax.

Suggestions for Lifestyle Changes

If stress or anxiety is causing your bruxism, we can suggest a few ways to reduce or cope with your stressors. Counseling, exercise, or seeing a therapist are a few changes you can make. You can also see your doctor about muscle relaxants or other medical options. Your body is an ecosystem, so if something isn’t being addressed, it can affect many areas – including oral health.

It may also help to cut down on or eliminate caffeine and alcohol. The caffeine in cola, coffee, and even chocolate can contribute to grinding, and bruxism is known to intensify after alcohol consumption.

Treating Your Bruxism in Orange County

At Shoreline Dental Studio, we go above and beyond for our patients. They’re like family, and we want the best not only for their dental health but for their overall well-being, too. We understand how clenching and grinding can affect your quality of life, so we want to help.

Contact us for a consultation at our San Clemente or Mission Viejo office, whichever is most convenient. Our locations are relaxing, comfortable, and welcoming — just what you need when you or someone in your family is experiencing bruxism and needs compassionate, expert oral care, treatment, and relief.

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Shoreline Dental Studio