Bruxism: Everything You Need to Know

By Premier Dental of Ohio

Bruxism can cause several dental issues

Is this word completely foreign to you? While you may not be familiar with this scientific term, you are certainly familiar with the condition it describes: clenching or grinding of the teeth. Your dentist worries about bruxism, and so should you.  

In this week’s blog, we will explain everything you need to know about bruxism.

What is Bruxism?

Bruxism is the forceful clenching or grinding of the upper and lower teeth against each other.  It involves strong contractions of the facial and jaw muscles.  This habit can be conscious or subconscious (meaning some people are aware of it, and others are not).  It can occur during sleep or while you are awake.  

While some people simple clench their teeth together and hold them tightly, others may move the lower jaw side to side or forward and back in a grinding motion.  Both fall under the category of bruxism.

What Causes Bruxism?

There are many potential causes of bruxism, and many people have more than one of these. While learning the causes of your own bruxism can be helpful in understanding your particular condition, the treatment is the same regardless of the cause.


Many people experience bruxism when they are under high levels of stress. They have an increase in overall muscle tension, and this applies to the facial muscles, as well as the neck and shoulders. This muscle tension results in heavy forces in the jaws and may result in muscle tenderness or pain.

Airway Constriction

During sleep, a common cause of bruxism is a constricted airway. When someone has a constricted airway, they may suffer from obstructive sleep apnea or upper airway resistance syndrome. These conditions lower blood oxygen levels.  When the brain senses a drop in oxygen levels, it attempts to open the airway physically by pulling the lower jaw up and forward. This reflex does open the airway and improve oxygen levels.  It also clamps the teeth together.

Misalignment of the Jaws

Some people clench or grind their teeth together because the jaws do not properly line up. The clenching or grinding is a subconscious attempt to make the teeth fit together correctly.  

Side Effect of Certain Prescription Medications

Some medications prescribed for management of ADHD can cause tight clenching or grinding of the teeth as a side effect. The effect is worse for those who have other risk factors for bruxism and also take these medications. Talk to your doctor about any potential side effects when you begin taking a new medication. 

Why is Bruxism Bad?

The heavy forces of bruxism can lead to painful symptoms and permanent damage to the teeth, gums, and jaw joints if left untreated. Obviously, you will notice it if you experience the painful symptoms of bruxism, like headaches, facial pain or pain in your jaw joints. You may not notice the damage to your teeth until it is severe.

The damage that people can do to their teeth through this harmful habit can cost thousands of dollars to repair. This damage is preventable when you identify the habit and treat it as soon as possible!


If you are clenching and/or grinding your teeth, you may notice one or more of these symptoms.

  • Frequent headaches, especially in the temple region
  • Pain in your cheeks and jaws
  • Clicking or popping sounds in your jaw joints just in front of the ears
  • A feeling of tightness in your face
  • A generalized sensitivity in the teeth.
  • Ringing in the ears


This habit also leaves visible evidence inside the mouth that your dentist can see upon examination. These are typically present whether you have noticeable symptoms or not. Your dentist will look for the following signs as evidence of this dangerous habit.

  • A callous-like white line on the inside of the cheeks
  • A rippled or scalloped shape to the sides of the tongue
  • Flattening or shortening of the teeth
  • Gum recession
  • Notching of the hard tooth structure near the gums, called abfraction
  • Enlarged jaw muscles
  • A change in your range of motion (how widely you can open your mouth)

How Can I Treat Bruxism?

There are several treatment modalities aimed at eliminating the causes of bruxism. These would include stress management techniques (like counseling, meditation, prayer, etc…), treatment of breathing issues, realignment of the teeth and/or jaws, and adjustment or discontinuation of prescription medications.  While those are possible and deserve investigation, they could prove complicated to implement.

The simplest treatment for bruxism is the protection of the teeth, gums, muscles and jaws through wearing a mouthpiece to separate the teeth and reduce the muscle force.  

Commonly referred to as a nightguard, a bruxism appliance is a custom-made dental mouthpiece that prevents most of the damage that this habit can cause. It also eliminates many of the symptoms patients notice from bruxism.  

There are a variety of designs for bruxism appliances, so speak with your dentist about which style may be right for your unique situation. Most people need a hard acrylic mouthpiece that covers all of the teeth on either the upper or lower arch.  

The lifespan of these appliances depends on the severity of the habit. Some people clench or grind their teeth with so much force that they can literally put holes into a hard acrylic appliance within six months. Others have mouthpieces that last for many years. Talk to your dentist for information about your potential need for frequent replacement of the nightguard.

What if I do Nothing about Bruxism?

The potential consequences are many and wide-ranging.  Some people may simply have frequent headaches. Others can completely destroy the TMJs (jaw joints), requiring joint replacement surgery.  

Most people experience damage to their teeth from the heavy forces of bruxism. Chipped and broken teeth are common, and they require dental treatments like fillings and crowns for restoration. There is no doubt that people who clench or grind their teeth will have higher dental expenses throughout their lifetimes.

More Questions about Bruxism?

Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location to schedule a visit with one of our dental experts. We can answer all of your questions about bruxism and assess your mouth for signs of this damaging habit. We love helping our patients protect the health of their teeth, gums muscles and jaws from the effects of bruxism.

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