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Nighttime Teeth Grinding: A Guide to Understanding Sleep Bruxism

Written by Deborah Onoja on Thu, 22 February 2024

Key Highlights

  • Sleep bruxism affects both adults and children, characterized by teeth grinding during sleep.
  • Stress, misaligned teeth, and sleep disorders are frequent contributors to sleep bruxism.
  • Identifying symptoms like teeth grinding sounds and jaw pain in the morning is crucial for timely management.
  • Seeking professional help through clinical evaluation ensures accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment plans.
  • Adopting preventive measures, including stress management and consistent bedtime routines, promotes better sleep quality and oral health. 
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Have you ever woken up with a sore jaw or noticed that your teeth are worn down? If so, you might be experiencing sleep bruxism.

Sleep bruxism, also known as nocturnal teeth grinding, is a common condition characterized by the clenching or grinding of teeth during sleep.

In this blog, we will explore what sleep bruxism is, why it is important to address this issue and the available treatment options.

What is sleep bruxism?

Sleep bruxism is a parafunctional activity that occurs outside the normal function of chewing and swallowing. It can affect both children and adults.

Furthermore, it is estimated that about 8% to 31% of adults experience sleep bruxism at some point in their lives.

To understand sleep bruxism better, it is essential to differentiate it from awake bruxism. Awake bruxism refers to teeth grinding or clenching that occurs during the day while an individual is awake. It can be caused by stress, anxiety, or other factors. On the other hand, sleep-related bruxism specifically refers to teeth grinding during sleep.

Sleep-related bruxism can be further characterized by rhythmic or non-rhythmic grinding. Rhythmic grinding involves consistent back-and-forth movements of the jaw, whereas non-rhythmic grinding involves intermittent or sporadic grinding.

Causes of sleep bruxism

1. Stress and anxiety

  • One of the leading causes of sleep bruxism is stress and anxiety. When we are under high levels of stress, our bodies tend to tense up, leading to jaw clenching or teeth grinding during sleep.
  • The subconscious manifestation of stress often manifests as sleep bruxism. So, if you find yourself experiencing a lot of stress or anxiety in your daily life, it could be a potential trigger for sleep-related bruxism.

2. Malocclusion (Misaligned teeth)

  • Malocclusion refers to a misalignment of the teeth, where the upper and lower teeth do not fit together properly when biting or chewing.
  • This misalignment can create excessive pressure on certain teeth, causing them to grind against each other during sleep.
  • If you have malocclusion or crooked teeth, it increases the likelihood of developing sleep bruxism.

3. Sleep disorders

  • Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea can also contribute to sleep bruxism. Sleep apnea is a condition characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep, leading to disrupted sleep patterns.
  • Research suggests that individuals with sleep apnea are more likely to experience teeth grinding at night.

4. Lifestyle factors

  • Certain lifestyle factors can also play a role in the development of sleep-related bruxism.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption and caffeine intake have been associated with an increased risk of teeth grinding during sleep.
  • These substances can disrupt the normal sleep cycle and lead to muscle tension, including jaw clenching.

5. Medication-induced bruxism

  • Some medications have been linked to causing or exacerbating sleep bruxism.
  • Certain psychiatric drugs, such as antidepressants and antipsychotics, have been known to induce teeth grinding or clenching during sleep.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Sleep bruxism can manifest in a variety of symptoms. If you or your partner notice any of the following signs, it may be an indication of sleep bruxism:

  • Teeth grinding sounds: One of the most common symptoms of sleep bruxism is the sound of teeth grinding or clenching during sleep. It may be loud enough to wake up your partner or even yourself.
  • Morning jaw pain: Jaw pain in the morning or soreness is another symptom frequently associated with sleep bruxism. This discomfort can radiate to the neck and shoulders, causing additional discomfort.
  • Headaches: Sleep-related bruxism can also lead to chronic headaches, particularly upon waking up in the morning. These headaches are often dull and centered around the temples.
  • Tooth sensitivity: If you experience increased tooth sensitivity to hot or cold foods and beverages, it could be a sign of sleep bruxism. The constant grinding can wear down the enamel, exposing the sensitive dentin underneath.
  • Sleep disruption: Sleep bruxism can disrupt your sleeping patterns, leading to frequent awakenings throughout the night. You may find yourself feeling fatigued during the day despite getting an adequate amount of sleep.

If you suspect that you might have sleep bruxism, itโ€™s important to consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Here are some common methods used for diagnosing sleep-related bruxism:

  • Clinical evaluation: Your healthcare provider will conduct a thorough evaluation, asking about your symptoms, medical history, and any medications you might be taking. They may also inquire about your stress levels and lifestyle factors that could contribute to teeth grinding.
  • Polysomnography: Polysomnography is a diagnostic test that involves monitoring various physiological parameters during sleep. It can help identify abnormal movements, muscle activity, and other sleep-related disorders, including sleep bruxism.
  • Dental examination: A dental examination can provide valuable insights into the extent of teeth grinding and its impact on your oral health. Your dentist will look for signs of tooth damage, sensitivity, and jaw misalignment that could be contributing to sleep bruxism.

Impact on oral health

1. Dental wear and tear

  • The constant grinding and clenching put excessive force on the teeth, leading to enamel erosion, chipping, and even fractures.
  • This can result in tooth sensitivity, changes in tooth shape, and compromised dental health overall.

2. Gum recession

  • The excessive pressure exerted on the gums during grinding can cause them to recede over time.
  • Gum recession exposes the tooth roots, making them more susceptible to decay and sensitivity.
  • It can also lead to aesthetic concerns, such as elongated teeth or an uneven gum line.

3. Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) issues

  • The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects the jawbone to the skull and is responsible for facilitating smooth jaw movements.
  • However, the excessive strain caused by sleep bruxism can lead to TMJ issues such as jaw pain, headaches, and difficulty opening or closing the mouth properly.

Health risks associated with untreated bruxism

Bruxism not only affects the quality of your sleep but can also lead to various health risks if left untreated.

Here are three major health risks associated with untreated bruxism:

1. Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMD)

  • The excessive force exerted during sleep bruxism can put immense strain on this joint, leading to TMD.
  • TMD can cause pain and discomfort in the jaw, face, and neck. It may also result in difficulty opening or closing the mouth fully, clicking or popping sounds when you chew or speak, and even headaches.
  • According to a study, bruxism was found to be significantly associated with an increased risk of developing TMD. This highlights the importance of addressing sleep bruxism to prevent long-term damage to the temporomandibular joint.

2. Dental complications

  • Persistent teeth grinding can have detrimental effects on your dental health. The excessive pressure and friction caused by bruxism can lead to enamel erosion, tooth sensitivity, and even cracks or fractures in the teeth.
  • Over time, this can result in tooth decay and tooth loss.

3. Sleep disturbances

  • Sleep bruxism can disturb your sleep patterns and prevent you from achieving restful sleep.
  • The grinding and clenching of teeth can lead to arousal throughout the night, disrupting the natural sleep cycle.
  • As a result, individuals with bruxism may experience excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating.

Managing sleep bruxism

Managing sleep bruxism

Sleep bruxism can be distressing, but the good news is that there are various ways to manage this condition.

Here are some effective management strategies:

1. Lifestyle changes

  • a) Avoid stimulants: Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol, as they can exacerbate sleep bruxism symptoms.
  • b) Maintain a regular sleep schedule: Adopting a consistent sleep routine can help regulate your body's internal clock and promote relaxation.
  • c) Relaxation techniques: Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or listening to soothing music before bedtime, can help calm your mind and reduce stress levels that may contribute to sleep bruxism.

2. Stress management

  • a) Regular exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity helps release endorphins, which are natural mood boosters. Exercise also promotes better sleep quality, reducing the likelihood of teeth grinding during the night.
  • b) Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: Incorporating mindfulness practices into your daily routine can help you become more aware of your stress triggers and develop healthier coping mechanisms.
  • c) Seeking Emotional Support: Talking to a trusted friend or family member about your feelings and concerns can provide emotional support and help reduce stress levels.

3. Dental treatments

  • a) Dental treatments can be effective in managing sleep bruxism by protecting teeth from damage caused by grinding or clenching. The most common dental treatment for sleep bruxism is wearing a mouthguard for sleeping.
  • b) A mouthguard acts as a protective barrier, preventing tooth wear and reducing muscle tension in the jaw. It is important to consult with a dentist to ensure the proper fit and effectiveness of a mouthguard.

4. Medical interventions

Medical interventions may be recommended for severe or ineffective cases of sleep bruxism. Healthcare professionals, like sleep specialists or dentists with expertise in sleep disorders, typically prescribe and oversee these interventions.

  • a) Medications: In some instances, medications may be prescribed to help manage sleep bruxism and alleviate associated symptoms. These medications may include muscle relaxants, such as benzodiazepines or botulinum toxin injections, which can help reduce muscle activity during sleep.
  • b) Botox Injections: In some cases, botox injections may be recommended as a treatment option for sleep bruxism. Botox works by temporarily paralyzing the muscles responsible for grinding and clenching, thereby reducing the intensity of jaw movements during sleep.
  • c) Biofeedback Therapy: Biofeedback therapy heightens awareness of physiological responses. It can aid in recognizing and controlling muscle tension and jaw movements during sleep bruxism. Sensors monitor muscle activity and display it on a screen.

Preventive measures

Preventive measures

1. Oral hygiene

  • Brushing and flossing: Brush your teeth at least twice a day using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Flossing should be done daily to remove plaque and food particles from between the teeth.
  • Regular dental check-ups: Schedule regular visits to your dentist for professional cleanings and check-ups. This will help identify any dental issues early on and allow for timely treatment.
  • Nighttime oral care routine: Establish a nighttime oral care routine that includes brushing your teeth before bed and using mouthwash. This helps remove bacteria and debris from the mouth, reducing the risk of grinding during sleep.

2. Avoiding triggering factors

  • Stress: Stress is known to be a significant contributor to sleep bruxism. Multiple studies have consistently shown that heightened levels of stress can not only trigger sleep bruxism but also exacerbate its symptoms, leading to more frequent and intense episodes of teeth grinding during sleep.
  • Caffeine intake: Caffeine is a stimulant that can increase muscle activity, including jaw muscle tension. Avoid consuming excessive amounts of caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, and energy drinks, especially close to bedtime.
  • Alcohol and tobacco use: Both alcohol and tobacco can worsen sleep bruxism symptoms. Alcohol relaxes the muscles, including the jaw muscles, making grinding more likely. Tobacco use also contributes to muscle tension in the jaw area.

Tips for a good nightโ€™s sleep

1. Establishing a bedtime routine

  • A consistent bedtime routine helps signal to your body that itโ€™s time to wind down and prepare for sleep, which is especially beneficial for those with sleep bruxism.
  • Activities like taking a warm bath, practicing relaxation techniques, or reading a book can be part of this routine.
  • By establishing and sticking to a routine, you can train your body to recognize when it's time to sleep, improving sleep quality.

2. Creating a relaxing sleep environment

The environment in which you sleep plays a crucial role in the quality of your sleep. When it comes to managing sleep bruxism, creating a relaxing sleep environment is essential. Here are some tips to achieve this:

  • Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet: A cool temperature, absence of external noise, and minimal light can make your bedroom more conducive to sleep. Consider using earplugs, blackout curtains, or white noise machines if needed.
  • Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows: Having a supportive mattress and pillows that suit your comfort preferences can significantly improve your sleep quality. It is important to find the right level of firmness and support for your individual needs.
  • Remove electronic devices: The blue light emitted by electronic devices like smartphones and tablets can interfere with your body's natural melatonin production, making it harder for you to fall asleep. Make sure to remove these devices from your bedroom or use apps that filter out blue light.
  • Create a clutter-free space: A tidy and organized bedroom can promote feelings of calmness and relaxation. Clear away any clutter or distractions that may hinder your ability to unwind before bed.

When to seek professional help

Here are some indications for when it is necessary to consult with a healthcare professional:

  • Persistent Symptoms: If you are consistently experiencing symptoms of sleep bruxism, such as jaw pain, headaches, or worn-down teeth, it is important to consult with a professional. They can help diagnose the condition and provide appropriate treatment options.
  • Disrupted Sleep: Sleep bruxism can disrupt your sleep and leave you feeling tired and unrested in the morning. If you find yourself waking up frequently during the night due to grinding or clenching your teeth, it may be time to seek professional help.
  • Dental Complications: Sleep bruxism can cause dental issues like tooth damage and gum recession. If you have concerns or notice changes in your dental health, consult a dentist.
  • Impact on Quality of Life: Sleep bruxism can harm your quality of life. It can cause pain and discomfort, affect your ability to eat and speak properly, and even lead to emotional distress. If you feel that sleep bruxism is significantly impacting your daily life, seeking professional help is crucial.
  • Failed Self-Management Strategies: If you have tried self-management strategies such as stress reduction techniques, avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed, or wearing a mouthguard without success, it may be time to consult with a healthcare professional for further guidance.

Conclusion

It is important to remember that a healthcare professional will be able to accurately diagnose sleep bruxism and develop an individualized treatment plan based on your specific needs. Seeking timely help can prevent further damage and improve your overall well-being. In essence, sleep bruxism is the grinding or clenching of teeth during sleep, impacting both adults and children. Stress, misaligned teeth, sleep disorders, and lifestyle factors are common causes.

Recognizing symptoms like teeth grinding sounds, jaw pain in the morning, and headaches is crucial. Professional diagnosis through clinical evaluation and dental examination is key for effective management. Preventive measures, such as stress management and a consistent bedtime routine, can significantly improve sleep quality and oral health.

Seeking professional help for persistent symptoms is essential for a healthier, happier sleep experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you're seeking natural ways to prevent teeth grinding, consider stress management through techniques like meditation, establish a calming bedtime routine, avoid stimulants like caffeine and alcohol, and incorporate jaw muscle relaxation exercises such as gentle massages or warm compresses. 

To curb teeth clenching, follow these steps: identify triggers and manage them effectively, engage in stress-relieving activities, position your tongue between your teeth during the day to relax jaw muscles, and consider using a dentist-prescribed nightguard for protection while sleeping. 

To alleviate overactivity in the masseter muscle linked to sleep bruxism, consider applying moist heat or taking a warm shower before bedtime. Incorporate relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to reduce overall muscle tension. Regular jaw and facial massages, either self-administered or by a licensed therapist, can also help relieve tension. Avoid excessive chewing activities, such as gum or tough foods, to prevent strain. For persistent jaw pain or concerns, consult with a healthcare professional or a dentist specializing in temporomandibular disorders (TMD). 

Nighttime teeth grinding, or sleep bruxism can induce headaches due to heightened muscle tension in the jaw, face, and head. The exact mechanism isn't fully understood, but repetitive muscle contractions and increased tension may contribute. If you frequently wake up with headaches or experience them during the day, consult your healthcare provider or dentist for evaluation and recommended treatments. 

The duration of dental splinting can vary depending on various factors such as the severity of the tooth mobility, the type of splint used, and the individual's oral health. In general, dental splinting can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months. 

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Deborah Onoja

Deborah Onoja is a passionate Registered Nutritionist-Dietitian with a Bachelors of Science degree in Nutrition & Dietetics obtained from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta. She qualified as a Registered Dietitian after completing her Dietetic Internship training at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu where she was exposed to clinical dietetics. She also holds a Masters degree in Clinical Nutrition and Diet Therapy from the University of Ibadan.

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Our team of experts frequently monitors developments in the health and wellness field, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.

Current Version

Feb, 22 2024

Written By

Deborah Onoja