What is Bruxism?

bruxism patient

What is bruxism and do I have it? Many people clench and grind their teeth occasionally, which causes little harm. However, frequent teeth grinding, medically called bruxism, can damage teeth and lead to other health complications. Many people suffer with bruxism without even realizing itStress, anxiety, an abnormal bite, and misaligned teeth are some reasons people grind and clench their teeth. Most bruxers do so at night. Because they are unaware of the issue, they don’t seek help until damage has already been done. Because many people grind their teeth at night, they are unaware of their condition. Dr. James Fondriest, a leader in TMJ treatment, offers treatment for bruxism, as well as restorative dentistry to correct damaged caused by chronic teeth grinding.

Causes of Bruxism

The exact causes of bruxism can be difficult to determine, especially for patients who only grind their teeth at night. But, a few possible causes are:

The Effects of Bruxism

Thankfully there are many warning sings that bruxism might be an issue. If you notice any of these symptoms you should consult us immediately, as there are several measures we can take to help prevent further damage to your teeth. Without assistance, however, it can be very difficult to end subconscious, nighttime teeth grinding.

  • Chronic headaches, especially when you wake up in the morning
  • Pain while chewing
  • Unusually sensitive teeth
  • Sore jaw muscles
  • Changes in the teeth’s alignment
  • Excessive wear along the edges of the teeth

Bruxism May Start Early

According to WebMD, 30-50% of children grind their teeth. When their baby teeth emerge, many babies grind their teeth to relieve pain as part of the teething process. Another peak time for teeth clenching is when children lose baby teeth, and their permanent teeth start to erupt. These situations are temporary in most cases, but children whose bruxism creates malocclusion between the upper and lower jaws are more likely to continue bruxing into adulthood. Often, children unknowingly grind their teeth while sleeping, like many adults. If you suspect your child may be grinding or clenching his teeth, visit a dentist. A thorough checkup can reveal tell-tale signs of tooth wear on molars.

Bruxism is a Harmful Habit

Bruxism is hard on your jaw joints, or temporomandibular joints (TMJs), located directly in front of your ears. These joints attach your lower jawbone, or mandible, to your skull on the temporal bone. Grinding and clenching your teeth during sleep places great force, equal to hundreds of pounds, on your teeth. Many people are less likely to grind during daylight hours, because they will not tolerate the same amount of force while they are awake.

Chronic bruxism can lead to TMJ disorder, in which the jaw joints do no longer find a true resting position. In this case, muscles work overtime to hold the jaw in proper position day and night. As a result, muscles spasm, which causes bruxism – the problem is cyclic.

Severe grinding may wear down teeth, causing them to appear short and stubby. Chronic grinding and clenching can also result in fracturing, chipping, loosening, or loss of teeth. In some cases, crowns can build up back teeth to re-equilibrate the bite and restore proper occlusion.

For bruxers, ligaments around the TMJs can become damaged and inflamed, which can lead to muscle spasms, as well as neck and shoulder pain. The inner ear is separated from the TMJ by millimeters, so problems with your TMJs can cause earaches and tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.


Bruxism can be tricky to self-diagnose, since people often grind and clench their teeth at night and are unaware of their destructive habit. You can ask your sleeping partner if you grind your teeth while you sleep. You might also ask yourself a few questions::

Do I suffer from headaches or migraines after I wake in the morning?

Am I tired even though I slept all night?

Does my neck hurt when I wake?

Do I experience ringing in my ears?

Does my jaw or do my TMJs ache?

Your teeth can also offer signs of night-time grinding and clenching. If Dr. Fondriest finds that your teeth appear ragged, chipped, worn down, fractured, or sharp, you may suffer from TMJ disorder.

Solutions to Bruxism

Stress is a leading cause of Bruxism, so reducing stress may help you stop grinding your teeth. Be sure to get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly, and eat a nutritious diet to keep stress levels low. Also avoid smoking, recreational drugs, alcohol, and caffeine. Be sure to relax your jaw by closing your lips, while keeping your teeth apart by placing the tip of your tongue slightly between them. While these tactics may help, chronic teeth grinding often requires professional intervention. You’ll want a dentist with special training in bruxism and TMJ treatment, like Dr. Fondriest.

Most likely, the dentist will recommend a custom-fitted dental night guard, a smooth plastic appliance (or splint) that fits over upper teeth. Professional mouth-guards are recommended over cheap appliances you can buy at the drug store. Over-the-counter splints aren’t as effective. A custom-made dental night guard will fit your teeth and realign your bite, while also eliminating your ability to grind your teeth during sleep. If your teeth have been heavily worn down, your dentist will recommend getting them repaired.

Rebuilding teeth with veneers or crowns may be necessary in instances where teeth have worn down and led to malocclusion. Rebuilding teeth may restore the natural resting position of the TMJs.

About the Author: Dr. Fondriest had extensive training in TMJ therapy at the world renowned L.D. Pankey Institute, where he now works as a senior faculty member. To schedule a consultation to discuss your jaw pain with a TMD expert, call Dr. James Fondriest, DDS, FICD, FACD at Lake Forest Dental Arts near Chicago, at (847) 234-0517.