What Causes Nighttime Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)?

Written by Beth Holloway, RN, M.Ed and medically reviewed by Ioannis Koutsourelakis, MD, MSc, PhD
2021-08-19

What Is Nighttime Teeth Grinding?

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) defines nighttime teeth grinding, also known as sleep-related bruxism, as repeated jaw movements with teeth grinding or clenching

When teeth grinding happens occasionally, it is unlikely to be a problem. However, if it occurs often it may impact the quality of your sleep, damage your  teeth and gums, and cause pain and morning headaches. 

What Is The Cause Of Teeth Grinding?

Most of the time the cause is unknown. However, it may be related to the following factors:

  • Sleep problems, like obstructive sleep apnea or insomnia

  • Gastric reflux (GERD)

  • Mental health problems, like anxiety

  • Medicines, like antidepressants

  • Family history of teeth grinding

  • Smoking, alcohol use, coffee drinking (8 or more cups/day)

What Are The Symptoms?

Clenching or grinding of the teeth is the key symptom. It may be reported by your sleep partner. Other symptoms of nighttime sleep grinding  include:

Pain and Injury

  • Morning headaches

  • Jaw, head, or neck pain or muscle spasms

  • Injuries to the tongue, lips and cheeks

Damage to Teeth

  • Increased sensitivity of teeth

  • Trouble chewing

  • Damaged teeth or dental work

  • Fractured or loose teeth

Sleep Problems

  • Poor sleep quality

  • Daytime fatigue

How Is It Diagnosed?

Your dentist  will ask about risk factors, including your medical history and medicines you’re taking. They will ask about your symptoms and check your teeth and mouth  for damage. A referral for a sleep study  (polysomnography) to check for associated sleep problems may be recommended.

How Is Nighttime Teeth Grinding Treated?

There isn’t a cure for teeth grinding, however, there are treatments that can minimize the symptoms and complications. 

Dental Care

  • Oral appliances or night guards; usually custom-made and fit by a dentist

  • Regular preventive dental appointments including checking the status of the teeth and mouth for changes related to teeth grinding 

  • Prescription medicines may be recommended in coordination with doctors

Medical Care

Your doctor may support the treatment provided by your dentist. They may discuss your medicines, treat associated medical problems, or sleep studies. They may also recommend making lifestyle changes, altering your sleep habits, and using relaxation and meditation techniques.

Goodpath can help with your sleep problem. We offer a well-rounded, personalized program based on your responses to our sleep assessment. Once you complete our free assessment, we’ll provide a program that includes mind-body techniques, exercise and nutritional support, as well as supplements, over-the-counter medicines and devices. Get started. Take our assessment.