Grinding or Clenching
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What is teeth grinding?

Grinding teeth is the act of involuntarily rubbing or grinding your top teeth against your bottom teeth.

This grinding usually occurs when you are asleep, or when you are preoccupied with a certain activity.

In short — tooth grinding happens unconsciously.

Tooth grinding is related to jaw clenching, which is where you clamp your teeth hard together, but don’t actually grind.

Chronic tooth grinding, to the point where it damages your teeth, is called bruxism.

teeth grinding

What causes chronic tooth grinding?

The amount that someone grinds their teeth is caused by both genetic and environmental factors.

One important genetic factor behind the likelihood of us grinding our teeth is our straight our teeth are

The less straight your teeth are, the more likely you are to grind.

People with misaligned bites, such as an overbite, under-bite or crossbite are particularly likely to grind their teeth.

Similarly, the natural resting levels of activity in your jaw muscles affect how likely you are to grind your teeth.

Hyperactive jaw muscles increase your chances of tooth grinding.

There are a multitude of environmental and behavioural factors that contribute to the likelihood of bruxism.

These include:

1) Stress- this is the biggest environmental cause of tooth grinding, and been very well established in clinical science.

The link between stress and bruxism means that people often grind their teeth during exam periods, or difficult spells at work.

It is thought that stress and anxiety contributes to one grinding their teeth due to the affect of the hormones adrenaline and norepinephrine on our reflexes.

These hormones, which are secreted at a higher level in stressful situations, increase the frequency of these reflexive actions.

teeth grinding

Additionally, chronic stress can lead to an imbalance in these hormones that can put someone at an even higher risk of developing bruxism.

This stress-induced tooth grinding can disappear once the stressful stimulus has ended, but it can become habituated over this period.

This can lead to chronic tooth grinding, along with all the problems that come along with it.

2) Stimulant use- this can range from caffeine and nicotine, to illegal stimulant drugs.

Stimulant drugs increase the propensity for someone to grind their teeth as they promote your body’s reflexive movements.

If you smoke cigarettes in the evening before bed, then you are at much higher risk of grinding your teeth when asleep

teeth grinding

3) Use of SSRI anti-depressants- these include the three most commonly prescribed anti-depressant drugs in the UK: Citalopram (Celexa), Fluoxetine (Prozac) and Sertraline (Zoloft).

SSRI drugs increase the amount of serotonin in the brain.

Raised levels of serotonin have been correlated with an increased likelihood of jaw clenching and teeth grinding, although the mechanism for this is not properly understood.

The link between SSRI use and tooth grinding is worrying particularly given the rise in anti-depressant use among young people.

Tooth grinding triggered by SSRI use can become habituated, and thus persist even after the anti-depressants in question are discontinued.

This can mean that young people can develop chronic tooth grinding as a result of taking these anti-depressants.

4) Dehydration– this is a particular problem for people who drink alcohol at night, or during warm weather.

Make sure you drink enough water, especially at night.

It is also worthwhile to keep an eye on how much water your children are drinking, as dehydration is a big cause of tooth grinding in children.

Are you clenching or grinding your teeth. In England 6 million children and adults are affected .

About 70% of grinding cases occurs during sleep.  It is related to stress and anxiety. 

Others clench their teeth during the daytime at work due to being asked to do more than they can cope or driving long distances between work places.

What are the signs and symptoms of tooth grinding?

As tooth grinding is a reflex action that often occurs at night, many may be unaware that they do it.

There are, however, some tell-tale signs that you grind your teeth.

These include:

1) Regular headaches and facial pain

Tooth grinding puts a lot of strain on the muscles in the top of your jaw.

This can cause pain that radiates around your head, particularly at the sides of your head.

It can also cause pain around your cheeks and mouth.

Tooth grinding can also cause damage inside your mouth, to your lips and the inside of your cheeks.

If you experience this pain regularly, particularly in the morning, then it may be a sign that you grind your teeth.

2) Making loud noises at night

Grinding your teeth can make a very loud, often unpleasant creaking or crunching noise.

This noise can be loud enough to wake up your partner and severely disrupt their sleep.

Having your partner complain about these kinds of noises may indicate that you grind your teeth at night.

It may also be indicative of other sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea, so it could be worth running tests for those problems too.

3) Worn down teeth

One of the most damaging effects of tooth grinding is that it wears down your teeth over time.

This can make your smile less aesthetically pleasing, as shorter teeth can lead to a “gummy smile”, but can also make teeth more likely to crack and chip.



Bruxism can wear down your teeth and make them appear small

The wearing down of teeth, particularly in people who are not elderly, is almost always due to tooth grinding.

Therefore, if you notice that your teeth are wearing down, it is definitely worth seeing your dentist.

4) Having sensitive teeth

Tooth grinding can cause sensitive teeth by wearing away our teeth’s protective enamel layer.

Enamel wear can cause our teeth to be sensitive to hot, cold and sweet foods. In severe cases, even breathing in cold air (on a winters day for example) can cause pain.

Although tooth sensitivity can be caused by tooth grinding, it can have a number of other causes too.

It is therefore worth asking your dentist about the possibility of tooth grinding if you have tooth sensitivity in conjunction with some of the other symptoms listed.

teeth grinding

5) Sleep problems & fatigue

The discomfort of grinding your teeth can cause you to wake up intermittently at night.

These periods of wakefulness often only last for a few seconds, and can go unnoticed and unremembered.

However as these rapid awakenings break up the sleep cycle they can cause sleepiness during the day.

This daytime fatigue can cause irritability, reduced performance at work, and increase the likelihood of road traffic accidents.

The impact of teeth rubbing against each other repetitively can also break crowns off and dislodge fillings, both of which will need to be repaired by a dentist.

If you are having more dental problems than usual, and there is no clear reason for this, then a dentist should check if you grind your teeth.

7) Temporomandibular Jaw (TMJ) Disorder

TMJ Disorder is chronic stiffness and pain in the joints that connect the jawbones together.

This can result in severe pain, and an inability to open your mouth properly.

Tooth grinding puts strain on the muscles, ligaments and tendons that control your jaw. Chronic, repetitive tooth grinding can damage this soft tissue in your jaw and lead to TMJ pain.

Only severe tooth grinding will lead to TMJ, however it is by far the most common cause of this disorder.

Mild TMJ pain can be treated at home, however more severe TMJ disorder may require medical intervention or even surgery to be treated.

If you have more than one of these symptoms then it is well worth going to your dentist, and asking if they can check if you are grinding your teeth.

Such a check should be able to be performed quickly and easily by a dentist.

It should not take longer than a regular check up, nor cost any more than one.

By far the most effective way to treat tooth grinding is by wearing a specialized sleeping appliance at night.

These sleeping appliances are similar to a mouth guard, and are small and comfortable enough to be work without disrupting sleep.

Tooth grinding appliances are small and thin enough to be worn comfortably during sleep

They work by adjusting your bite to its optimal resting position to stop grinding.

Additionally, the hard acrylic that the appliance is made out of also acts as a shock absorber to reduce any damage to your teeth and mouth that may be caused by what little grinding you do.

The appliance is made by a dental technician, and is fine-tuned and fitted by a dentist.

This usually is done over two appointments, one to take the impression for the technician to make the appliance, and the other to fit the appliance.

Almost all dental practitioners agree that this is the most effective way to stop tooth grinding, especially at night

Other Things To Be Aware of

Cutting out habits that promote jaw tension, such as chewing gum, can also help you relax your jaw.

Magnesium supplements can help relax the small, fast twitch muscles in your jaw and reduce grinding further.

Stress and Grinding Relationship

Finally, as stimulant drugs and stress are major contributors to bruxism, it is advisable that you try to reduce stress and your intake of caffeine and nicotine if you want to grind your teeth less.

Treatment Success

Anxiety and stress can occur for many reasons including due to modern living, overload of work, family, smoking and other situations.  Remember the brain subsconciously destresses while sleeping by grinding and starts the process of rubbing the teeth together and causing the bite to change and the teeth to wear.  Later the enamel of the tooth breaks and the dentine becomes visible.

Sometimes grinding occurs due to interferences in the bite.  A bite anaylsis is done to help verify if this is the cause.

Dr Singh can provide you with a night guard or day guard to prevent you from wearing away your teeth.  It is comfortable to wear and many patients have used it to protect the enamel on their teeth.


“I had been grinding my teeth for a long time and some a poping noise in my jaw  joints too.  I had jaw  therapy and a night guard made to make my jaws feel better.  After years of discomfort I am feeling much better.  I should have approached you many years ago”

                                                      Frank Bryant

“The procedures have been clearly and thoroughly explained and my opinions and concerns have been listened to and catered for. After treatment the general feeling of my mouth has been remarkable. It was easy and comfortable.  My discomfort has disappeared.”

                                                                                                                                            Paul Davies

“I have been treated so well that my jaw is not feeling sore any more. .  I am much better now and can hear no joint clicking now thanks to the care at Eternal Smiles.”                                                                                                                       Stephen

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