Sleep bruxism is better known as teeth grinding or jaw clenching. It’s a sleep-related movement disorder that’s often linked to stress or anxiety. While people can grind their teeth during the day, sleep bruxism is a bigger health concern. People with sleep bruxism may be unaware that they’re grinding their teeth, but it can interfere with the quality of your sleep. Your body needs to relax while you’re asleep, but tooth grinding involves tensing the muscles. This keeps you from relaxing to get the deep, restful sleep that you need. Read below to find out more about sleep bruxism, and how you can relax to get the sleep that you need.

What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Bruxism?

While people are often unaware of grinding their teeth while asleep, there are some symptoms that you can look out for. These include:

  • Facial pain
  • Headaches
  • Earache
  • Pain and stiffness in the jaw joint and surrounding muscles
  • Toothache
  • Worn-down teeth
  • Broken teeth, crowns, or fillings
  • Changes in the shape of your teeth
  • Disrupted sleep for both you and your partner

Facial pain and headaches tend to stop after you stop grinding your teeth, and tooth damage usually only occurs in severe cases.

What Causes Sleep Bruxism?

The exact cause for grinding your teeth while you sleep is not known, but it’s usually linked to other factors, such as stress and anxiety, sleep disorders, medicines, or your lifestyle.

1) Stress and Anxiety

Teeth grinding is most often caused by stress or anxiety, and many people are unaware that they’re doing it. While sleep bruxism usually happens while you’re asleep, it’s possible that you could be grinding your teeth during the day when you’re stressed, anxious, or even just concentrating.1 70% of sleep bruxism cases are linked to anxiety and stress, with bruxism also occurring at a higher rate in adults who are prone to intense emotions, or have hyperactive personalities.2 People may develop sleep bruxism as a coping mechanism – similar to biting your nails, lip, or cheeks.3

2) Sleep Disorders

If you snore or have a sleep disorder, such as Obstructive Sleep Aponoea (OSA), you’re more likely to grind your teeth while you sleep.4 You’re also more likely to grind your teeth if you:

  • Talk or mumble while you sleep
  • Act violently while asleep, such as kicking out
  • Have sleep paralysis (a temporary inability to move or speak while waking up or falling asleep)
  • Experience hallucinations (you see or hear things that are not real while semi-conscious)5

3) Medicines

Sleep bruxism can sometimes be a side effect of certain types of medicine. If you’re grinding your teeth while you sleep, talk to your doctor about any medication you’re taking to find out if this could be the cause.6

4) Lifestyle

Other factors that can lead to teeth grinding, or make it worse, are:

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Using recreational drugs, like cocaine
  • Having a lot of caffeinated drinks, such as tea or coffee (at least 6 cups a day)

Treatment

You should go to your dentist if you have:

  • Worn, damaged, or sensitive teeth
  • A painful jaw, face, or ear

If you sleep with someone else in the bed, ask them if they’ve noticed you making a grinding sound while you sleep. This can also be a sign of sleep bruxism, and you should go to the dentist if you’re making this sound during the night.

Your dentist will check your teeth and jaw for signs of teeth grinding. They’ll determine what treatment you need depending on how damaged your teeth are, or if there’s a threat of infection or a dental abscess.7

There are a few different ways of treating teeth grinding. The most common one is a mouth guard, or mouth splint. Mouth guards and splints even out the pressure across your jaw and create a physical barrier between your upper and lower teeth to protect them from further damage. They’re made of rubber or plastic, and can be made by your dentist to fit your mouth. You may be able to buy a mouth guard in your local pharmacy, but a custom-made mouth guard from your dentist will fit better, and be more effective.8 While mouth guards and splints will not stop you from grinding your teeth, they’ll reduce pain and prevent tooth wear, as well as protect against further damage.

Other treatments for teeth grinding are designed to reduce your stress or anxiety, like Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).9 If you’re grinding your teeth due to stress, you should visit your doctor as they’ll be able to help you manage your stress and, through this, you’ll grind your teeth less.

Can You Help Your Stress Levels?

If you’re grinding your teeth due to stress and anxiety, there are some ways you could manage this at home:

  • Maintain a consistent bedtime and wake-up time to make sure you get the required hours of sleep you need.
  • Try meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises – read more about these here, or have a look at our ‘Mindfulness and Sleep’ article to find out how mindfulness can help you to relax.
  • Avoid hard foods and chewing gum – this can keep jaw muscles more relaxed.
  • Have a relaxing bedtime routine – have a warm bath, read, or listen to relaxing music, and avoid looking at screens for an hour before going to sleep.
  • Reduce, or eliminate, your caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine intake.

While these are some ideas for how you can reduce your stress, the best way to help yourself is to talk to your doctor. Your doctor will help you manage your stress while maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and good sleep hygiene.

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Footnotes

  1. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/teeth-grinding/
  2. https://www.tuck.com/bruxism/
  3. https://www.tuck.com/bruxism/
  4. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/teeth-grinding/
  5. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/teeth-grinding/
  6. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/teeth-grinding/
  7. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/teeth-grinding/
  8. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/teeth-grinding/
  9. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/teeth-grinding/
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