Clenching the jaw is often a natural reaction to strong emotions, like anger, stress, and anxiety. It may also simply be a habit, unrelated to your emotions. You may find yourself doing this during the day, but the habit may also extend to the overnight hours.

Teeth grinding and clenching is also known as bruxism. It can contribute to a range of symptoms that may interfere with daily life if the condition becomes too severe.

What Is Sleep Bruxism (Teeth Grinding)?

Sleep bruxism is a condition in which an individual grinds, clenches, or gnashes their teeth while sleeping due to the contraction of the jaw muscles (1). It is normal for the mouth to move during the night, but sleep bruxism movements occur with more force and regularity.

Bruxism can also occur during the day, but sleep bruxism may initially go unnoticed. An individual may be unaware they are doing it until they have already done damage to the teeth. While the biological purpose of this tension is unclear, it may play a protective role in airway maintenance or saliva production (2).

Data about the prevalence of sleep bruxism is limited, but some research suggests 1% to 15% of adults and 3% to 49% (3) of children may experience it.

Why Do I Grind My Teeth in My Sleep?

Experts consider bruxism a multifactorial condition (4), meaning a variety of factors (5) can contribute to overnight teeth grinding, including stress, anxiety, and genetics. It is believed that these conditions may increase muscle tension, thereby leading to bruxism.

While it is unclear which causes which, sleep bruxism and obstructive sleep apnea (6) commonly co-occur, leading some to speculate that there is a genetic link between these conditions.

In children, sleep bruxism may also correlate to secondhand smoke exposure (7). However, secondhand smoke exposure also causes poor sleep quality (8), so this may represent an indirect association rather than a cause-effect relationship.

Other risk factors (9) for sleep bruxism include caffeine or alcohol intake, smoking, snoring, and moderate daytime sleepiness.

How Do I Know if I Grind My Teeth at Night?

If you grind your teeth at night, experiencing daytime symptoms may be your first clue. Those with sleep bruxism do not always experience it every night, so symptoms may come and go.

Some common symptoms of teeth grinding include:

Additionally, if you share the bed, your partner may hear you grinding your teeth during the night.

Tips for Preventing Teeth Grinding at Night

Teeth grinding can cause pain, discomfort, and lasting damage to the teeth. Preventing overnight teeth grinding can enhance your comfort and protect your oral health. Several methods are commonly used to prevent, reduce, or shield against sleep bruxism. You can try some of these options at home, while others require guidance from a doctor or dentist.

  • Mouthguard: Also called a night guard, this small device rests between the user's upper and lower teeth to serve as a barrier and limit damage (14) from bruxism.
  • Stress Reduction: Stress seems to be closely linked to sleep bruxism, so relaxation techniques and biofeedback (15) may be beneficial.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Habits such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and consuming caffeine (16) appear to contribute to teeth grinding. Cutting out these behaviors may yield results.
  • Avoid Unnecessary Chewing: If you chew gum, chew ice, or chew on a pen, quitting can help reduce strain on your jaw (17). You might also cut out foods that are difficult to chew, like taffy and popcorn.
  • Medications: For bruxism that does not respond to other treatments, a botulinum toxin injection (18) may help prevent overnight teeth grinding. These treatments are usually intended to reduce muscle activity, thereby limiting grinding.

When to Talk to Your Dentist or Doctor

Formal treatment for sleep bruxism is not always necessary, and many people with the condition find relief through lifestyle changes and over-the-counter devices. However, it is beneficial to talk to your doctor or dentist, particularly under the following conditions:

  • You Are Unsure of the Cause: Other conditions can look like sleep bruxism or coexist in individuals with teeth grinding. If you are uncertain of the root cause of your symptoms, you may want to consult your doctor or dentist.
  • You Are Experiencing Sensitivity: Sleep bruxism can damage the teeth and gums, and sensitivity may be a warning sign. Talking to your dentist might be able to reduce your discomfort and prevent future damage.
  • You Often Wake Up with Pain: Morning headaches, neck pain, and jaw pain are common in those who clench or grind during the night. If you routinely have these aches and pains, it may be time to consult a medical professional.

How Is Sleep Bruxism Diagnosed?

Either a doctor or dentist can diagnose sleep bruxism, though the diagnostic methods may vary. Some individuals may simply assume they have the condition based on their symptoms and feedback from their sleep partner.

Video polysomnography, an overnight sleep test performed at a sleep clinic, can help identify sleep bruxism and other conditions that may interfere with your rest. Dentists may also identify sleep bruxism based on the presence of damage to the teeth or gums.


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