Teeth grinding and jaw clenching (also called bruxism) is often related to stress or anxiety.
It doesn’t always cause symptoms but some people get facial pain and headaches, and it can wear down your teeth over time.
Most people who grind their teeth and clench their jaw aren’t aware they’re doing it. It often happens during sleep or while concentrating or under stress.
Symptoms of teeth grinding
Symptoms of teeth grinding include:
- facial pain
- pain and stiffness in the jaw joint (temporomandibular joint) and surrounding muscles, which can lead to temporomandibular disorder (TMD)
- disrupted sleep (for you or your partner)
- worn-down teeth, which can lead to increased sensitivity and even tooth loss
- broken teeth or fillings
Facial pain and headaches often disappear when you stop grinding your teeth. Tooth damage usually only occurs in severe cases and may need treatment.
When to see your dentist and GP
See your dentist if:
- your teeth are worn, damaged or sensitive
- your jaw, face or ear is painful
- your partner says you make a grinding sound in your sleep
Your dentist will check your teeth and jaw for signs of teeth grinding.
You may need dental treatment if your teeth are worn through grinding to avoid developing further problems, such as infection or a dental abscess.
See your GP if your teeth grinding is stress-related. They’ll be able to recommend ways to help manage your stress.
Treating teeth grinding
There are a number of treatments for teeth grinding.
Using a mouth guard or mouth splint reduces the sensation of clenching or grinding your teeth. They also help reduce pain and prevent tooth wear, as well as protecting against further damage.
Other treatments include muscle-relaxation exercises and sleep hygiene.
If you have stress or anxiety, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may be recommended.
Read more about treating teeth grinding.
What causes teeth grinding?
Stress and anxiety
Teeth grinding is most often caused by stress or anxiety and many people aren’t aware they do it. It often happens during sleep.
Teeth grinding can sometimes be a side effect of taking certain types of medication.
In particular, teeth grinding is sometimes linked to a type of antidepressant known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Examples of SSRIs include paroxetine, fluoxetine and sertraline.
If you snore or have a sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), you’re more likely to grind your teeth while you sleep. OSA interrupts your breathing while you sleep.
You’re also more likely to grind your teeth if you:
- talk or mumble while asleep
- behave violently while asleep, such as kicking out or punching
- have sleep paralysis (a temporary inability to move or speak while waking up or falling asleep)
- experience hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t real) while semi-conscious
Other factors that can make you more likely to grind your teeth or make it worse include:
- drinking alcohol
- using recreational drugs, such as ecstasy and cocaine
- having lots of caffeinated drinks, such as tea or coffee (six or more cups a day)
Teeth grinding in children
Teeth grinding can also affect children. It tends to happen after their baby teeth or adult teeth first appear, but usually stops after the adult teeth are fully formed.
See your GP if you’re concerned about your child’s teeth grinding, particularly if it’s affecting their sleep.