Nearly one in three people suffer from teeth grinding, or bruxism, as it is traditionally termed. And, nearly 10% of those that grind their teeth do it so severely that their teeth are reduced to small nubs. This condition affects people of all ages, from childhood through adulthood, causing severe tooth damage, jaw disorders and headaches.
While teeth grinding can happen at any point during the day, the majority of people do it at night. And, many don’t know that they are doing it, unless their sleeping partner or dentist mentions it. That is why it can take months, or even years, to be diagnosed, and by then significant damage may already be done.
What is Bruxism?
There are two types — one where you gnash and clench your teeth while awake — awake bruxism — and one where you clench and grind your teeth at night, termed sleep bruxism. (1) Often, daytime teeth grinding occurs when you are under stress, experiencing anxiety, or it may be simply a bad habit.
Sleep bruxism, on the other hand, is considered a sleep-related movement disorder, classified similarly with restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movements. (2) People who have one or more of these sleep-related movement disorders also tend to suffer from sleep apnea and snoring.
While common in adults, this condition should be taken very seriously in children and teens. Some researchers estimate that as many as 20%–30% of children grind their teeth. (3) Often, this can be an early sign that their top teeth don’t properly align with their bottom teeth, and a dentist or orthodontist should be consulted as quickly as possible.
Common Symptoms of Teeth Grinding
Excessive teeth grinding may first be noticed by your dentist due to the damage to your teeth and gums. Whether you grind your teeth at night or during the day, you may not be aware of your actions until complications develop.
Signs and symptoms of teeth grinding include:
- Awakening your sleeping partner due to loud sounds of grinding and clenching
- Teeth are fractured, chipped, loose or flat
- Tooth enamel wears erratically
- Teeth become sensitive to hot, cold and sweets
- Pain or soreness in the face or jaw
- Tired or tight jaw muscles
- Pain in the ear
- A dull headache located in the temples
- Sore spots inside your mouth from chewing on your cheeks
- Indentations on your tongue
Teeth Grinding vs. TMJ
TMJ, a disorder of the temporomandibular joint, can cause pain and discomfort. Injury, genetics, or arthritis can cause this condition that is most often treated without surgery. TMJ and bruxism share some of the same signs and symptoms including pain in the ears, facial pain, and difficulty chewing. One of the distinguishing symptoms of TMJ is a clicking sound when the jaw opens or closes. (4)
Teeth grinding, on the other hand, doesn’t affect the temporomandibular typically; however, some people have been known to develop one condition, and then the other. Medical professionals are not quite sure how the two are related, but some believe that long-term clenching or grinding of teeth can erode the temporomandibular joint, leading to TMJ.
Causes & Risk Factors
In children, research has linked asthma, upper airway infections, and anxiety disorders with teeth grinding. In one study, 62.5% of the children with bruxism also had respiratory problems. (5) While acute upper respiratory infections can cause this condition, if your child has chronic asthma, regular dental checkups are advised to identify teeth grinding early before too much damage occurs.
Researchers have also found a direct relationship between the presence of an anxiety disorder, and the onset of bruxism, indicating that, like adults, anxiety can cause the hallmark symptoms of clenching, teeth grinding and gnashing. (6) Children diagnosed with an anxiety disorder should have regular dental checkups to prevent long-term damage to the enamel of their teeth and to prevent chipping or breaking.
There is also evidence that suggests some children may begin grinding their teeth as a natural response to pain. These episodes may be temporary, like when a young child is teething or from an earache. This typically subsides when the pain or discomfort is relieved. As an aside, children with an aggressive, competitive or hyperactive personality may be more prone to developing bruxism.
In adults, the causes of teeth grinding may reveal one or more of the following underlying medical conditions or prescription medication side effects:
- Sleep apnea
- Huntington’s Disease
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Anxiety disorder
- Unresolved anger or frustration
- Unmanaged stress
- Abnormal alignment of upper and lower teeth
- Certain psychiatric medications and antidepressants
Often working together, a dentist and a physician will craft a care plan to help reduce the symptoms and tooth damage associated with this condition. An individualized plan may include any, or all of the following.
- Mouth Guard
The most common conventional treatment is a custom-made splint or mouth guard, specially designed to keep your teeth separated to prevent further damage due to the grinding or clenching. While some people find a mouth guard to be uncomfortable, it is one of the best ways to protect the health of your teeth.
- Alignment Correction
If the problem is caused by improper alignment of the teeth, correcting the alignment, before too much damage is done, is a great long-term option. A dentist or orthodontist may recommend using braces, crowns, oral surgery, or reshaping the chewing surface of the teeth to make the teeth align properly.
- Prescription Muscle Relaxants and Antidepressants
Often when the cause is due to stress, depression or anxiety, doctors will prescribe muscle relaxants. While they may be effective, speak to your doctor about potential side effects as some commonly prescribed can adversely affect your liver or thyroid, while others may be habit-forming.
- Botox Injections
When someone doesn’t respond to other conventional treatments, some doctors may suggest Botox injections. Researchers acknowledge there is limited research on the safety and efficacy of Botox for individuals with bruxism; however, it does appear it may be useful in reducing the myofascial pain associated with the condition. (7) While generally considered safe, speak to your doctor about any potential side effects of the Botox injection.
7 Natural Treatments
Depending on the root cause, one or more of the following treatments may provide relief and prevent further damage to the teeth, reduce pain in the face and ears, and improve sleep quality.
- Splint + Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
In a study published in the journal General Dentistry, an interdisciplinary approach that included an occlusal splint combined with cognitive behavioral therapy was found to be significantly more effective than just an occlusal splint. Researchers believe the combination is more effective at achieving muscle relaxation, resulting in a better outcome. (8) The behavior therapy component will help you learn proper mouth and jaw positioning.
In cases where the healthcare team believes that teeth grinding is a habit, and not caused by an underlying condition, biofeedback may be recommended to help relieve the symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, this complementary technique uses equipment to teach you how to control the muscle activity in your jaw. (9) Initial studies indicate that it may be effective for both awake bruxism and sleep bruxism.
- Stress Management
To stop grinding teeth when you are suffering from stress or anxiety requires you to learn to manage and release your stress. Both children and adults can benefit from popular techniques like regular physical exercise, meditation, yoga and essential oils. Of course, a healthy, balanced diet is also important, and avoiding any foods that may trigger an allergic reaction is vital.
- Vitamin C
As a complement to stress management techniques and cognitive behavioral therapy, boosting your intake of vitamin C can be beneficial when learning how to stop grinding your teeth. Vitamin C is used by our adrenal glands, affecting our response to stress. It is also essential in the making of dopamine, which helps to regulate moods.
Vitamin C rich foods include guava, black currants, red peppers, kiwi, green peppers, oranges, strawberries, papaya, broccoli and kale. Try my recipe for a refreshing, and nutrient-dense Strawberry Papaya Smoothie to get the vitamin C you need to stop grinding your teeth.
A couple of the common signs of a magnesium deficiency include anxiety, irritability, insomnia, restlessness and hyperactivity. Adults can take 400 milligrams of high-quality magnesium supplement before bed to improve the quality of sleep. For children, follow the RDAs provided by the National Institute of Health for best results. (10)
In addition to supplementation, including foods naturally rich with magnesium, such as spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, kefir or yogurt, almonds, black beans, avocado, figs, dark chocolate and bananas, may help you stop grinding your teeth. Try one of my favorite healthy treats, Chocolate Avocado Mousse, that is rich in magnesium and potassium.
- B-Complex Vitamins
Like vitamin C and magnesium, the role of the B vitamins in our overall health and wellness is well-documented. Having a deficiency in any one of the B vitamins may cause psychological stress, depression and even panic attacks. Vitamin B5/Pantothenic Acid may be especially useful when you are trying to overcome bruxism. Starting with a balanced mood is imperative for the best results.
Follow the RDAs for the appropriate age, listed below (11):
1-3 years, 2mg
4-8 years, 3mg
9-13 years, 4mg
Men and women 14 and older, 5mg
Pregnant women, 6mg
Breastfeeding women, 7mg
- Valerian Root
Used for generations as a natural sedative and anti-anxiety treatment, valerian root has been shown to improve the quality of sleep, with no reported side effects. (12) A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing found that 800mg of valerian over an 8-week period improved the symptoms of restless legs syndrome and improved the overall quality of life. Since bruxism is classified as a sleep-related movement disorder, like restless legs syndrome, trying valerian root is warranted. (13)
Learning how to stop grinding teeth can help prevent long-term dental health complications, including worn enamel, chipped or broken teeth, and chronic pain in the face, ears and jaw. If left untreated, sleep bruxism may lead to extended periods of poor sleep quality and sleep apnea. It is important to find the right treatment to stop grinding teeth, day or night.
- 1 in 3 people grinds their teeth regularly.
- Bruxism can cause severe damage to teeth and gums.
- In children, it may be due to asthma, an anxiety disorder, an upper respiratory infection, or an allergy. Regular dental checkups are advised to determine if damage is occurring.
- In adults, bruxism may be caused by an underlying medical condition or prescription medication. Treating the root cause may provide relief.
- Conventional treatments include braces, prescription muscle relaxants, and mouth guard.
- When stress, depression or anxiety are co-occurring with bruxism, stress management techniques and the boosting vital nutrients linked to healthy moods should be considered.
- The best natural treatments may include a combination of cognitive behavior therapy and the use of a mouth guard.