What is teeth grinding (bruxism)?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Teeth grinding (also known as bruxism) is when you hold your top and bottom teeth tightly together or when you rub your top and bottom teeth across each other. This condition can range from mild to severe. The clenching or grinding of your teeth can cause jaw pain or damage, tooth damage, muscle pain, and headaches.

Bruxism, or tooth grinding, often happens during sleep. Watch as Dr. Maria Lopez Howell explains ways to control grinding your teeth so you can maintain your smile.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Bruxism is the medical term for the unconscious clenching or grinding of the teeth. The causes for this problem are not clear. Watch the animation to learn more about how tooth grinding occurs.

Bruxism is the medical term for frequently grinding your teeth. It often happens when you don't realize it, such as while you are sleeping. Bruxism can be mild, but in some cases it can lead to headaches, jaw problems, facial pain, and even damaged teeth.

Stress, anxiety, suppressed anger, and even some medications can lead to unconsciously grinding your teeth. If you've noticed that your teeth are chipped, your face or ears hurt, or your teeth feel more sensitive than usual, bruxism may be a cause.

Treatment options include stress-management techniques, using a mouth guard at night, or biofeedback sessions that can help you learn how to change the behaviors that might lead to teeth grinding. 

In a Healthy mouth, teeth on the top arch never touch the teeth on the bottom arch. There is always space between them at rest. When chewing, there is food between the teeth. When teeth do touch each other, it is considered unhealthy. Bruxism is a medical term used to describe teeth grinding against each other or clenching together either during the day and or at night. Sometimes patients can have no symptoms and are unaware that they are Bruxing. Other times, patients may develop headaches, jaw joint pain, muscles stiffness or soreness, a cracked tooth etc. A dentist can look at the wear patterns on your teeth and assess if you are clenching and/or grinding. Although a patient cannot be stopped from bruxing they can stop the damage that takes place on their teeth, jaw joints, and jaw muscles. When patients become aware that they may be doing this they can catch themselves during the day and stop it. However, at night they are sleeping and unaware. A Dentist will recommend a Nightguard to prevent the damage that can take place from Bruxing.

A common cause of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder is tooth grinding and clenching, a condition known as bruxism that occurs in about one in 20 adults. People who grind their teeth during sleep usually rub their lower teeth against their upper teeth in a back-and-forth or side-to-side motion, creating a noise that sounds like chewing on hard crackers or ice cubes. Clenching (which can happen during sleep or while you're awake) is more like a rocking motion of the lower teeth against the uppers. Some people don't realize they have bruxism unless a bed partner mentions it or a dentist points out worn-down areas on the teeth. Most people with bruxism don't develop TMJ disorder, but frequent grinders can develop stiff neck muscles -- a possible trigger for tension headache.

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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.