Bruxism – How To Stop Teeth Grinding While Sleeping

diagram showing the effects of bruxismHave you been told you make repetitive grinding sounds with your teeth when you sleep? Perhaps you’ve noticed some damage or wearing to one or more of your teeth? If so, it could be that you suffer from bruxism.

Bruxism is the habit of either grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw. It’s not the same as normal teeth grinding though, such as when eating. It happens involuntarily and automatically.

Around 10% of people are thought to suffer from bruxism, both adults and children. There are two kinds – awake bruxism (usually more jaw clenching than grinding), and sleep bruxism. I’ll be talking mainly about the sleep kind though in this article.

Symptoms & consequences of Bruxism

Grinding teeth persistently at night can cause various problems. Some of these will stop if you get the grinding under control, but others are more permanent. Here are the main symptoms and consequences you might experience:

  • Worn teeth, shortened teeth, tooth fractures, increased sensitivity, tooth loosening or loss.
  • Headaches.
  • Ear ache.
  • Jaw ache.
  • Disruption of both you and your partner’s sleep.
  • Pain in the muscles of the face.
  • Gum problems, such as receding and inflammation.
  • Problems with the Temporomandibular joint (TMJ).
  • Shoulder stiffness or tightness.
  • Problems opening the mouth.


As with many sleep disorders, the exact cause of bruxism is still debated. There seem to be various possible explanations, and it could be that a combination of more than one is responsible.

Let’s take a look at the main theories:

1. Stress or anxiety

cartoon of a stressed manWhile I was trying to find out what might be causing my teeth grinding, stress came up a lot as a possibility. This made sense to me, as I had a very stressful job at the time I first realized I was doing it every night.

The UK Bruxism Association says that up to 70% of people suffer from bruxism due to stress or anxiety. And the British National Health Service website further clarifies that it’s often due to stress.

However, there are some who don’t view stress as a significant factor. For example an Italian review of 45 research studies found that stress is a major factor in daytime bruxism, but not in sleep bruxism.

Interestingly though, stress and anxiety are seen as common causes of a similar problem, teeth chattering.

2. Other sleep disorders

Both the Bruxism Association and the NHS say that you’re more likely to grind your teeth if you have a sleep disorder, such as the following:

3. Genetics

Estimates are that between 21% and 50% of people who have bruxism also have an immediate family member who have it.

4. Medication and drugs

Some medicines and recreational drugs are thought to contribute to bruxism. For example cocaine, amphetamines such as ecstasy and some SSRI anti-depressants. It’s also thought that too much caffeine or alcohol could contribute to it.

How to stop teeth grinding

The first step is to speak to your dentist or your primary care doctor. They can check for signs of damage to your teeth, look into the possible cause and recommend further treatment.

There are various possible treatment options, though it does depend on the possible causes. Some of these won’t cure it, but can help with either with the consequences or severity.

1. Check for breathing disorders

If you have Obstructive Sleep Apnea, it’s a potentially serious, but manageable sleep disorder. Researchers in 2002 found that many people stop grinding their teeth when using a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine.

If you or your partner ever notice any breathing irregularities in your sleep, such as stopping breathing for brief moments, or regular snoring, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about it.

Your doctor might recommend further assessments of your breathing and sleep, possible including a sleep study.

2. Dentist check-up

Because bruxism can cause tooth damage, it’s a good idea to go for regular dental check ups if you suffer from it. There’s also the possibility of doing reconstruction work to fix any damage already caused.

3. Wearing a mouth guard

a night guard to stop teeth grindingThis was the treatment which I resisted, mainly because I remembered how uncomfortable they were playing sport as a kid. The idea is that you protect your teeth at night with a rubber or plastic protective shield.

You can buy mouth guard kits to make a mold yourself, or pay more for your dentist to make one that fits well. A mouth splint is similar, but harder and again costs more.

Night guards might help reduce the damage, but probably won’t stop the actual grinding. So in that way you’re only really treating the symptom and not the cause.

4. MADs (Mandibular Advancement Devices)

These kinds of devices are normally used for treating apnea or sometimes severe snoring. But research has shown they can also work as a bruxism treatment. The problem is though that these devices can also be uncomfortable and so people might not continue using them.

5. Psychological help and hypnotherapy

If your teeth grinding is caused by stress or other psychological issues, there are many effective talking therapies available, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Some research has also shown good results with hypnotherapy, both with a therapist and self-hypnosis. If you do an online search for ‘hypnosis for bruxism’ you’ll find a huge amount of people offering their services, and even self-hypnosis recordings.

Whether it works or not I imagine will depend on both your susceptibility to hypnosis and what’s actually causing your bruxism.

6. Self-help and relaxation techniques

As with so many sleep problems, treatment often ends up coming back to taking action yourself to deal with problems like stress or anxiety. Even though I quoted earlier the research which suggests stress isn’t a major factor, my personal opinion is that it still could well be.

I know that when I left my stressful job, within weeks I wasn’t grinding my teeth in my sleep nearly as much. It could be coincidence, but I do believe it was related.

So dealing with stress in the long term, and also doing relaxation exercises before bed, might help. Have a read of the section on relaxation techniques for sleep for some ideas.

Your opinion

I’d like to know what you think about the stress debate. Do you think factors like stress, anxiety or worry can lead to bruxism? Or do you think it’s something else?

And what’s your experience with trying to stop grinding your teeth in your sleep? Feel free to leave your thoughts and ideas below.

74 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Some 10 years ago I went to the dentist complaining of a sever toothache or better say “teethache”. That was something very strange and new to me, because all of a sudden not one but several teeth were aching. (It is important to mention that even to this day I have never had dental caries or cavities.) The doc was equally surprised, because she knew me and my teeth quite well. So, after a long investigation and not finding any obvious reason she noted that the teeth on my upper and lower jaw matched almost perfectly. I was single back then, so there was no one to tell me what was going on during my sleep…but several audio recordings did. The sound was as if there was a lathe in the bedroom. First thing I did the next day was to buy a mouthpiece. Not the most pleasant thing to have in your mouth, though, but I got used to it and I use one ever since. They don’t last more than a month, but better the rubber than my teeth. In addition, Sensodyne toothpaste is of great help, as well.

    • Hi Alex
      Thanks for your comment. It’s great that you worked out what was happening in your sleep, and found a way to help yourself. I like the idea of using Sensodyne too if your gums are being made sensitive by the grinding.

    • Hi there
      Thanks for your comment. A good step to take for anyone who snores is to speak to your doctor about it and ask about sleep apnea. Snoring is a potential symptom, so it’s worth seeing if you can have a test done. Your doctor can also advise you on the teeth grinding.

  • My boyfriend does it so bad. I’m so worried about him and grinding down the teeth. I hope he’ll listen about reducing caffeine and alcohol at night. I’m trying everything to try to help him.
    I wish they made a medicine for teeth grinding at night.

  • I clench when I’m excited for instance seeing or hugging my pets. I’m going to try a nose plug to keep my mouth open when I sleep. I’m worried it will dry me out but I’ve got to try something. The mouthguard doesn’t work because my brain says “oh good you’ve got protection…clench away”

  • I believe stress, anxiety and/or worry play a major part with teeth grinding and teeth clenching I’m a stay at home mom I worry so much and my anxiety levels can get to an extreme point. The teeth clenching gets so bad that it wakes me up and as it jolts me awake it feels like my teeth are twisting backwards I’m scared it will loosen a tooth or two. The pain by my ears by my jaw joints is so bad it hurts just to put running water. Thank you for this article brought a huge knowledge and insight.

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