Teeth Grinding/Bruxism

You can be diagnosed with teeth grinding – medically known as bruxism – if you excessively grind, clench, or gnash your teeth. Teeth grinding can happen while you are awake (awake bruxism) or sleeping (sleep bruxism), but you are much less likely to know that you grind your teeth while sleeping.

About 10% of the U.S. population grinds their teeth every night. That’s almost 40 million people. The good news is that we can help you with your teeth grinding with something as simple as a nightguard.

Causes of Teeth Grinding

With awake bruxism, many people unconsciously grind or clench their teeth during the day. This can cause jaw soreness, headaches and possible permanent teeth damage. Awake bruxism may be due to stress, anxiety, frustration/anger, or tension.

With sleep bruxism, the teeth grinding and clenching happen subconsciously during your sleep. The jaw-force that is applied during sleep is likely to be much stronger, up to 250 pounds of force, because you are in deep sleep and not aware that it’s happening.

Sleep bruxism is more common in younger people. Studies have found that between up to nearly 50% of children experience nighttime teeth grinding. For adults, the prevalence of sleep bruxism is estimated to be around 15%.

Sleep bruxism may be caused by mechanisms related to the central nervous system’s automatic response to stress and anxiety. Researchers have found that sleep bruxism also has a genetic component, with as many as 50% of people with sleep bruxism having a close family member with the condition.

Teeth grinding can cause significant teeth damage, requiring costly dental repairs. This may include treatment for bone loss, broken teeth, root canals, dental implants, dentures, crowns, or TMJ (pain or misalignment in the jaw).

RELATED: Pain in the Jaw – TMJ Disorder (TMD)

Symptoms of Teeth Grinding

Signs and symptoms of teeth grinding may include:

  • A dull, constant headache or sore jaw/neck when you wake up, soreness right below or in front of your ears
  • Your night-time teeth grinding is loud enough to be heard by your loved ones and they tell you about it
  • Worn tooth enamel
  • Flattened, fractured, chipped or loose teeth
  • Sleep disruption

Call your dentist if you have mouth pain or tooth damage.

Image: Result of heavy teeth grinding

RELATED: Root Canal Therapy Explained

Treatment Options for Teeth Grinding

In many cases, treatment is not required. Many kids will outgrow bruxism without requiring treatment. Similarly, there are many adults whose teeth grinding is not severe enough to require therapy.

While your dentist can usually tell if you’re grinding your teeth when you come in for your regular checkups, it’s always important to talk to your dentist about specific issues you think you may have with your teeth, and your dental health in general.

Night Guards

Your dentist can create custom-fit mouthguards for you to wear at night to keep your teeth separated and prevent damage from clenching and grinding. Custom-fit night guards are usually constructed from clear, hard acrylic and custom fitted for your upper and/or lower teeth. Custom-fitted night guards from your dentist will provide the best and safest fit since they are made specifically for your teeth.
You may also consider over-the-counter night guards but they may not fit well, which can cause more tooth and jaw pain. A 2016 study in the British Dental Journal found over-the-counter night guards are associated with tissue damage and teeth movement.

Image: Custom-made night guard

Dental Correction

If your teeth grinding is severe and has been going on for some time, in addition to recommending night guards and other preventative methods, your dentist may need to make modifications to your teeth’s structure and surfaces to restore your teeth to their natural appearance and repair the damage that was already done.

Veneers and crowns are two common options to repair the damage from severe teeth grinding. Other options are composite fillings (for cavities caused by grinding), dental bonding (for chipped or slightly cracked teeth) and dental implants (for loose, broken, or abscessed teeth). The best option depends on your bite and the nature of the teeth damage.

RELATED: Three Tooth Replacement Options

Behavioral Strategies

If your teeth grinding is due to stress or anxiety, you may be able to prevent it by learning and applying stress reduction techniques such as regular exercise or meditation, and lowering intake of caffeine and alcohol.

A licensed therapist or psychologist can help you identify the triggers for stress and anxiety and address them with techniques to manage stress and improve relaxation.


More research is needed to determine the effectiveness of medications to treat teeth grinding. When other treatment methods are not sufficient, your dentist may consider medications, usually for short periods. Examples of medications that may be used to treat bruxism include muscle relaxants and antidepressants.

About Dental Innovations of Virginia

Dr. Joon Coe, Dr. Julie Coe, and the rest of the DIVA team look forward to helping you achieve the highest possible dental health. Please call us if you have any questions about bruxism/teeth grinding. We will work with you to discuss, diagnose and recommend the best treatment options.

We’re located at 19490 Sandridge Way, Suite 160, Lansdowne, VA 20176.

Our hours are Monday through Friday from 9 am to 6 pm. 

Happy Customers

Text us 24/7 at 703-454-5656 to schedule an appointment or ask us a question. You can also send us photos via text messages!

Dental Innovations of Virginia provides comprehensive dental services, and preventive dentistry for the whole family. In addition to our Lansdowne office serving the Leesburg, Lansdowne, Ashburn, Loudoun County areas, we also come to you via our DIVA Mobile Clinic service for patients living in long-term care facilities, and our DIVA Home Visit service for patients who prefer to receive treatments in the comfort of their own home.