Bruxism is the medical term for grinding, gnashing or clenching your teeth. The condition affects both children and adults.
Some people with bruxism clench their teeth together during the day, often when they feel anxious or tense. This is different from tooth grinding or clenching that occurs at night, which is called sleep bruxism. Most children who are bruxers do so at night, while adults are either daytime or nighttime bruxers.
Bruxism may be mild and may not even require treatment. However, it can be frequent and severe enough to lead to jaw disorders, headaches, damaged teeth and other problems. Unfortunately, people with sleep bruxism usually aren’t aware of the habit, so they aren’t diagnosed with the condition until complications occur. That’s why it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of bruxism and to seek regular dental care.
Signs and symptoms
The signs and symptoms of bruxism may include:
- Teeth grinding or clenching, which may be loud enough to wake your sleep partner
- Teeth that are worn down, flattened or chipped
- Worn tooth enamel, exposing the inside of your tooth
- Increased tooth sensitivity
- Jaw pain or tightness in your jaw muscles
- Earache — because of severe jaw muscle contractions, not a problem with your ear
- Chronic facial pain
- Chewed tissue on the inside of your cheek
Doctors don’t completely understand the causes of bruxism. For daytime bruxism, it has been thought that abnormal alignment of upper and lower teeth (malocclusion) may contribute to the problem, though this hasn’t been confirmed in research studies. Sleep bruxism is believed to be related to changes that occur during sleep cycles in some individuals, and this is an active area of current research.
In adults, psychological factors seem to be associated with bruxism, including:
- Anxiety, stress or tension
- Suppressed anger or frustration
- Aggressive, competitive or hyperactive personality type
When to seek medical advice
Bruxism often goes unnoticed. See your dentist if you have worn teeth or pain in your jaw, face or ear. Also consult your dentist if your bed partner complains that you make a grinding noise while you sleep.
If you notice that your child is grinding his or her teeth — or has other signs or symptoms of this condition — be sure to mention it at your next dental appointment.