How can bruxism (tooth grinding) affect me?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Teeth grinding can affect your quality of life by causing dental damage and impairing sleep. If severe enough, teeth grinding can lead to damaged tooth enamel and broken or chipped teeth. For many sufferers, this disorder occurs at night and may lead to insomnia, restless sleep, or pain that disrupts sleep. The grinding may disturb your own sleep, as well as that of your sleeping partner. Treatment can resolve symptoms and improve quality of life for most people.

Many people who suffer from bruxism (grinding or clenching the teeth) are unaware that they grind their teeth because they do it while they sleep. Bruxism often occurs in the early part of the night and can disturb sleep partners. The clenching and grinding may be quite audible. Others make no sound while bruxing their teeth and do not realize they are doing it until the dentist discovers unusual wear spots on their teeth. Bruxism may be mild and occasional or aggressive and frequent.

People who grind or clench their teeth may wake with a headache, earache or toothache. Their facial muscles may be sore and the jaw joints tender. Besides causing discomfort, grinding can eventually damage dental fillings and may loosen teeth. Bruxism also can cause damage to the temporomandibular joints -- the joints on each side of the mouth that connect the lower jaw to the skull. The pressure from clenching and grinding can cause cracks or fractures in the teeth. As the tooth enamel is worn away, the underlying layer of dentin may be exposed. This causes the tooth to become sensitive to temperature changes and pressure.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Although tooth grinding, also known as bruxism, is an unconscious behavior, it can cause effects that can impact daily life such as headaches and tooth damage. Watch the animation to learn more about the possible impact of tooth grinding.

The initial effects of teeth grinding (bruxism) can occur without any symptoms. However, the continued effects, if left untreated, can prove to be very debilitating to your quality of life by limiting proper dental function, broken teeth and fillings, increasing dental pain and teeth sensitivity, severe headaches, loss of sleep, and damage to the jaw joint (TMJ). Chronic bruxism can also lead to arthritis of the joint causing a limited ability to open and close your mouth. 
Be sure to think beyond tooth grinding for what is affecting quality of life. Often there is some other medical condition, like snoring and sleep apnea, smoking, or side effects from prescriptions that is contributing to your tooth grinding. Trying to improve your quality of life without addressing the big picture may be frustrating!

Protecting your teeth from the damaging effects of grinding will pay off in lots of ways -- fewer dental emergencies, less cost, and less chance that a sudden fracture will mess with your smile. It is always better to prevent than to treat.

Another common result of teeth grinding is a sore tooth or multiple sore teeth. They can be quite painful and could lead to an improper diagnosis of a dental infection. Wearing a night guard that your dentist recommends can save you a lot of problems and improve your quality of life.

Bruxism is gritting and grinding of the teeth. Most people brux at night and are unaware of this habit. Bruxing can wear the enamel off of the teeth making them sensitive. It also causes the teeth to flex which results in enamel coming off near the root of the tooth. This can also make the teeth sensitive. Bruxing can also cause cracks to develop in the teeth and part of the teeth to break off. Finally, bruxing can affect your jaw joint (TMJ) and make it sore and painful. If you suspect that you are bruxing, see you dentist for a diagnosis and treatment. Bruxing can be treated with a mouth guard that is worn between the teeth.

Teeth grinding, which many people do while they sleep, is also called sleep bruxism. Bruxism can lead to chipped or broken teeth and can damage dental work, such as crowns. Its negative effects can also extend beyond physical damage to your teeth. For instance, constantly working your jaws can leave them aching. Teeth grinders often complain of headaches and facial pain, too. Finally, teeth grinding may affect someone else's quality of life: the person trying to sleep next to you in bed.

Continue Learning about Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)

Which muscles are involved in teeth grinding?
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MDDr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Tooth grinding results from unconscious movement of the primary chewing muscles. Watch the animation...
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When is teeth grinding (bruxism) serious?
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Teeth grinding is not dangerous, but leaving it untreated can have serious consequences, such as per...
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What is TMJ and how does it relate to teeth grinding (bruxism)?
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TMJ is the abbreviation for temporomandibular joint and often is shorthand for a collection of disor...
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How do I manage teeth grinding (bruxism) on a daily basis?
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You can manage teeth grinding by practicing helpful techniques for self-care daily. These include le...
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.