Health Encyclopedia


What is bruxism?

Bruxism is a problem in which you unconsciously grind or clench your teeth. You may clench and grind your teeth during the day. Or, at night while you sleep (sleep bruxism). You may not even realize you have it. Signs and symptoms vary, and can include:

  • Abraded teeth

  • Chipped or cracked teeth

  • Facial pain

  • Overly sensitive teeth

  • Tense facial and jaw muscles

  • Headaches

  • Dislocation of the jaw

  • Locking of the jaw

  • Wearing away of the tooth enamel, exposing the underlying dentin (inside of the tooth)

  • A popping or clicking in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)

  • Tongue indentations

  • Damage to the inside of the cheek

  • Wear facets (flat smooth areas created on the biting surfaces of the teeth as they are rubbed together repeatedly)

The symptoms of bruxism may look like other conditions or health problems. See a dentist or your healthcare provider for a diagnosis and treatment.

What causes bruxism?

Oral health specialists often point to too much stress and certain personality types as causes of bruxism. Bruxism often affects people with nervous tension such as anger, pain, or frustration. It also affects people with aggressive, hurried, or overly competitive tendencies. There is some proof that in some people, bruxism is caused by an imbalance in brain neurotransmitters. Also, some medicines such as the antidepressants fluoxetine and paroxetine can cause bruxism.

How is bruxism diagnosed?

During regular dental visits, your dentist will examine your teeth for signs of bruxism such as flattened tips of the teeth. If signs and symptoms are present, your dentist or other healthcare provider will watch the condition over the next few visits before treatment is started.

Treatment for bruxism

Your healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment based on:

  • How old you are

  • Your overall health and medical history

  • How well you can handle specific medicines, procedures, or therapies

  • Your opinion or preference

In most cases, bruxism can be successfully treated. Treatment may involve:

  • Behavior changes. You may be taught how to rest your tongue, teeth, and lips properly. You may also learn how to rest the tongue upward to relieve discomfort on the jaw while keeping the teeth apart and lips closed.

  • Mouthguard. You may be fitted for a plastic mouth guard that you can wear at night to absorb the force of biting. It can be worn in the day if you grind your teeth while awake. This mouthguard may help prevent future damage to the teeth and aid in changing behavior.

  • Biofeedback. Biofeedback involves an electronic instrument that measures the amount of muscle activity of the mouth and jaw. It then signals you when there is too much muscle activity so you can take steps to change that behavior. This is especially helpful for daytime bruxism. More research is needed to develop a treatment program for those who clench during the night.

  • Medicine. Some medicines may be helpful in regulating the neurotransmitters. Changing medicines may be needed if antidepressant medicines are found to be the cause of bruxism.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Eakle, W. Stephan, DDS
  • Kapner, Michael, DDS