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Teeth grinding (bruxism)

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Teeth grinding or bruxism is when you grind or clench your teeth.
  • It is often caused by stress and anxiety and can happen at night while you are sleeping.
  • Young children sometimes grind their teeth but usually grow out of it.
  • Treatment includes relaxation techniques and counselling.
  • You can also get a mouthguard or splint to help protect your teeth.

What is bruxism?

Bruxism is the medical name for teeth grinding or clenching that is not part of normal chewing.

Adults and children can grind their teeth during sleep. You might also grind your teeth during the day.

If you grind your teeth while asleep, you may not be aware that you are doing it.

What are the symptoms of teeth grinding?

If you grind your teeth, your symptoms could include:

  • cracked, chipped or loose teeth
  • damaged tooth fillings
  • painful jaw muscles, especially in the morning
  • headaches or toothaches
  • sensitive teeth
  • sleep disturbance
  • temporomandibular joint dysfunction

Sometimes people see their doctor for headaches or a sore neck and find teeth grinding is the cause.

You might not realise that you grind your teeth in your sleep. Your bed partner could be the first one to notice the sound of teeth grinding. The noise made by teeth grinding can make it hard for those around you to sleep.

Some people do not get any symptoms from griding their teeth.

What causes teeth grinding?

Some possible causes and triggers for teeth grinding are:

  • emotional stress and anxiety
  • smoking
  • alcohol or caffeine use
  • snoring
  • taking particular medicines, such as certain antidepressants
  • using stimulants or drugs such as cocaine or ecstasy

People who grind their teeth while asleep may be more likely to have other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnoea.

When should I see my doctor or dentist?

If you have symptoms of teeth grinding, talk to your dentist or doctor.

Your dentist can examine your teeth and suggest suitable treatments.

If your dentist finds that you have sleep bruxism, they may refer you to be checked by a doctor for sleep apnoea.

How is teeth grinding diagnosed?

Your dentist will check for signs of bruxism, such as tooth wear and damage, during regular dental check-ups. If they suspect teeth grinding, they will do an examination.

Your dentist will ask about your symptoms, sleep habits, general health and medicines.

How is teeth grinding treated?

Not everybody who grinds their teeth needs treatment. Many children will simply grow out of it.

If you do need treatment, there are different ways to tackle it.

You can try to manage teeth grinding by reducing stress and anxiety. Your dentist or doctor may suggest:

Another approach is to manage the physical aspects of teeth grinding. This may be with:

  • a custom-made mouthguard (known as an occlusal splint) to protect your teeth
  • dental treatment to repair damaged teeth
  • physiotherapy to help relieve jaw muscle pain and fatigue
  • medical treatment for any conditions linked to tooth grinding

It's common to use more than one approach. Talk to your dentist or doctor about your options and their benefits and risks.

Can teeth grinding be prevented?

There is not a particular method to prevent bruxism. However, if you grind your teeth, it's important to find out about treatments to reduce or prevent damage to your teeth.

Are there any complications of teeth grinding?

If you grind your teeth, it could be mild bruxism and cause little harm.

If your teeth grinding is more serious, it could damage or crack your teeth. You might also have facial pain and poor sleep.

The sound of teeth grinding at night can also wake other people sleeping nearby.

Resources and support

Read more about teeth grinding and other dental conditions at the Australian Dental Association website.

If you are stressed or feeling anxious, Beyond Blue offers information and support — you can call a counsellor on 1300 22 4636.

If you want to know more about teeth grinding or need advice on what to do next, you can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2023

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