Grinding your teeth: tips to ease the symptoms

Interim Clinical Director of Bupa Dental Care at Bupa UK
24 October 2016

Do you grind your teeth at night? Or perhaps you even do it when you're awake? Dr Steve Preddy explains what bruxism (teeth grinding) is and what can help relieve the symptoms.

Woman needing dentist

If you’re waking up in the morning with a headache, toothache or tender jaw muscles then you could be grinding your teeth when you’re asleep. Some people do it when they’re awake too. In fact, it’s more common when you’re awake than when you’re asleep. Although teeth grinding can be mild and cause few problems, for some people it has a significant impact on their daily life, especially if it goes on for a long time.

Is it common?

The medical term for teeth grinding is bruxism and it’s surprisingly common. As many as one in five adults and children may do it when they’re awake or asleep. It’s more common in children, but as you get older you’re less likely to do it.

What effect does it have on my health?

As well as pain, other symptoms can include cracked and worn teeth, tiredness because of disturbed sleep, and you might get teeth marks on your tongue. If you grind your teeth when you’re asleep, your partner may hear you and, when it’s severe, it can disturb their sleep too. If you’re having symptoms, or your partner is affected, see your dentist or your GP.

Why do I grind my teeth?

So, why do people grind their teeth? The answer is doctors don’t really know, and not everyone will be able to find a direct cause. However, if you’re stressed or anxious then you’re more likely to grind your teeth when you’re awake. For that reason, bruxism can come and go in line with your stress levels; when you’re stressed you grind your teeth, when you’re not the problem stops.

Stress isn’t the only cause. Some medicines such as antidepressants can cause it, and sleep problems such as snoring or sleep apnoea can make it more likely. Lifestyle factors also play a part. If you smoke, drink alcohol or a lot of caffeinated drinks, or take drugs such as ecstasy, you’re also more likely to grind your teeth.

If you don’t grind your teeth often and it’s mild, you won’t necessarily need to see a health professional or have treatment. However, if you have severe symptoms, if the grinding is damaging your teeth or the noise affects your relationship then it’s time to seek help. Bruxism can’t be cured, but there are lots of things that can help to ease your symptoms.

How to ease the symptoms

The first thing to think about is what might be causing it and take steps to manage that. So, could you try relaxation techniques to reduce stress, or cut back on coffee or alcohol perhaps? If you’re taking medicines that could be causing it, talk to your GP about any alternatives. You can also manage symptoms by taking painkillers when you need them. Physiotherapy can help if you have tense and painful jaw muscles.

If your teeth are becoming worn and damaged when you’re asleep, your dentist can make a mouth splint or bite guard which helps to protect them. You wear these at night, and they also cut down the noise of grinding. They’re specially moulded to fit your mouth and are usually made of plastic or rubber. Your dentist may suggest using a different device that’s similar to a mouth splint but it works by reducing the tension in your jaw muscles. It’s only used in certain situations and, like guards and splints, it isn’t something everyone can use.

Some hypnotherapists offer treatment for teeth grinding, but there’s no evidence that it’s likely to work. If you grind your teeth when you’re asleep and it’s severe then your GP may prescribe a medicine called clonazepam for a short time. This can help to reduce the tension and activity in your jaw muscles. If you have long-term stress-related teeth grinding then cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can sometimes help. This is a talking therapy that can help you manage problem by changing the way you think and behave.

Dr Steve Preddy
Interim Clinical Director of Bupa Dental Care at Bupa UK

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