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Bruxism Overview

Most people clench or grind their teeth from time to time. When this becomes a habit, usually triggered by stress or anxiety, it is known as bruxism.

Bruxism can cause permanent damage to your teeth and can trigger other symptoms such as earaches, jaw pain, and headaches.

Bruxism typically occurs during the night and is known as sleep bruxism. Bruxism that occurs during the day, usually subconsciously, is known as awake bruxism.

Bruxism that occurs on its own and is not triggered by any other medical condition is known as primary bruxism. Secondary bruxism occurs as a result of another condition or of medication.

What Causes Bruxism?

More than 70 percent of bruxism occurs because of stress and anxiety. It usually occurs subconsciously while you are asleep. However, other things can lead to it, including the possible causes described below.


Bruxism can occur as a side effect of a number of drugs, most commonly antidepressants, antipsychotics, and psychotropic drugs.

The most common type of medications to cause bruxism are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, a type of antidepressant. Common medications in this category include paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline (Zoloft).

Jaw Problems

If you suffer from an occlusal discrepancy, meaning your top and bottom teeth don’t meet correctly, you may be more likely to suffer from bruxism. This can occur if you have missing teeth or crooked teeth. Bruxism caused by jaw problems may stop once your jaw issue is corrected.

Lifestyle Choices

Certain lifestyle choices can increase your chances of suffering from bruxism, including a high intake of alcohol, taking recreational drugs, and smoking large amounts of tobacco.

How Is Bruxism Treated?

Treatment for bruxism aims to reduce any pain you are feeling, prevent damage to your teeth, and reduce clenching and grinding as much as possible.

Medical Care

Your dentist is likely to prescribe a mouthguard or a splint, a protective dental appliance, to protect your teeth from further damage. There are several styles of mouthguards available that can fit your mouth in different ways. Your dentist will choose the type most likely to fit your mouth while offering the greatest protection to your teeth.

The aim of a mouthguard is to protect your teeth and prevent clenching while holding your jaw in a more relaxed position. Wearing the guard should not be painful. If one type of mouthguard doesn’t work, you should try another until you find one that is comfortable and resolves your bruxism.

If a splint or guard doesn’t work, your dentist may recommend orthodontic adjustment, such as braces or surgery, to correct misaligned teeth. However, these are very uncommon treatments for bruxism and may not resolve the problem.


There are a number of ways you can treat the side effects of bruxism yourself. They include icing your jaw muscles to relieve pain, avoiding hard foods, and relaxing your facial muscles periodically during the day.

Stress management techniques like relaxation therapies and deep-breathing exercises are beneficial as well.

Breaking the Habit

In some cases, bruxism may stop once you have learned to break the habit. For instance, you might break the habit through learning relaxation techniques and holding your jaw in a more relaxed position. Once daytime bruxism has subsided, sleep bruxism is likely to improve as well.

What Are the Potential Complications of Untreated Bruxism?

Bruxism can lead to severe tooth pain and, if left untreated, can trigger eating disorders. Your teeth and jaw will become more sensitive and feel more pain. This can lead to depression and insomnia. Bruxism can also lead to ear pain, headaches, jaw pain, abnormal wear on teeth, fractures or broken teeth, tooth mobility, and inflamed and receding gums if left untreated.

What Is the Long-Term Outlook for Bruxism?

Bruxism can often be resolved and further damage to your teeth can be prevented by learning strategies to cope with stress and anxiety. This can be done in a variety of ways, including exercise, talk therapy, and breathing and relaxation techniques.

Even after your bruxism has been treated, it’s important to visit your dentist regularly. They can spot signs that your bruxism has returned before you are aware of it.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Kati Blake
Medically reviewed on: Feb 29, 2016: Christine A. Frank, DDS

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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