Bruxism: What Are the Signs?

A lot of people grind and clench their teeth from time to time. Occasional grinding, gnashing, and clenching of the teeth and jaw is called bruxism. This condition happens to around 30 million to 40 million children and adults in the US. This doesn’t usually cause harm, but when it occurs on a regular basis, the teeth can be damaged, and oral health complications can arise.

Symptoms of bruxism

Here are the signs and symptoms of bruxism:

  • Rhythmic contractions of the jaw muscles
  • A grinding sound
  • Disruption in sleep for you or your partner
  • Headaches
  • Long-lasting pain in the face
  • Earache
  • Sore gums
  • Pain and stiffness in the jaw joint and surrounding muscles
  • Worn-down teeth
  • Broken teeth or broken dental fillings

Bruxism can cause the teeth to become painful or loose, and sometimes the parts of the teeth are literally ground away. It can also destroy the surrounding bone and gum tissue, which can lead to problems in the jaw joint like temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ). It can even change the appearance and structure of your face when done for a longer term.

The facial pain and headaches often disappear after you stop grinding teeth. Damages to the teeth only usually happens in severe cases and may need treatment.

How do I know if I have bruxism?

Do you find yourself waking up in the morning with sore jaw muscles or headache? Is there a jaw discomfort, pain, and feeling of fatigue on the face or jaw when you wake up? Do you see damage or wear to the teeth? If you answer yes to these questions, you may have been suffering from bruxism.

Bruxism is usually considered as a sleep-related movement disorder. For many people, bruxism is an unconscious habit. Because it happens during sleep, they may not realize they are doing it until someone comments about their horrible grinding sound while sleeping. A sufferer may not know they have it unless a family member or bed partner hears the noise. For some people with heavy-sleeping partners or no bedside companions, they just discover that their teeth are worn or the tooth enamel is fractured. Besides sore jaw muscles, potential signs can include aching in the face, head, and neck. Only a dentist can make an accurate diagnosis of the condition, which can help determine if the source of these pain is a result of bruxism.

It will be easier for you to discover if you have bruxism if you have a roommate or a bed partner who is still awake when you fall into sleep.

Bruxism might be more common in children. It can begin as soon as a child’s upper and lower teeth have come through the gums, but this condition continues to decrease with age.

Some people experience bruxism every night for most of their lives. Dentures are often used in the elderly to dampen the sound of grounding.

What causes bruxism?

Causes of teeth grinding and clenching isn’t always clear, but it is usually linked to these factors:

Stress and anxiety

Teeth clenching is normal due to stress and anxiety. It is estimated that nearly 70% of teeth grinding is caused by stress. Anxiety, stress, and frustration due to anger, problems, pressures at school or work, or an upcoming life event.

Personality type

Your personality type can even raise your chances of experiencing bruxism, as highly motivated, driven, and eager people tend to experience this more. If you’re aggressive, competitive, or hyperactive, this can increase your risk of bruxism.

Family history

Bruxism during sleep tends to occur within families. If you have bruxism, check if a member of your family also has it too. Your family may have a history of it.

Sleep disorders

If you clench your teeth when you sleep, it may be related to a sleep disorder. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most likely sleep disorder that can cause grinding of teeth while sleeping. OSA causes breathing to stop and start during sleep repeatedly. Though the most noticeable sign of sleep apnea is sleeping, clenching of teeth is also one symptom. Bruxism is found more frequently in sleep apnea than other sleep disorders.

You also may be more likely to grind teeth when you talk or mumble when you sleep. Oftentimes, sleep talkers also experience bruxism.

People with sleep paralysis and violent behaviors during sleep like kicking and punching may sometimes experience bruxism. It can happen to people who hallucinate while semi-conscious as well.

Other disorders

Bruxism can be associated with other medical and mental disorders such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, Huntington’s disease, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) can also cause bruxism.


Lifestyle choices can also affect the likeliness of bruxism or make it worse. These include drinking alcohol, smoking, using recreational drugs like cocaine and ecstasy. Drinking lots of caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks can also trigger bruxism.


Teeth grinding and clenching can be a side effect of taking medicines and other substances. Bruxism is sometimes linked to a type of antidepressant known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). These can include paroxetine, sertraline, and fluoxetine.


When to see a professional

It is vital to figure out what causes your bruxism.

You must see a dentist if your teeth are damaged and sensitive, or if your jaw, face, and ears become painful every morning or every time you wake up. The dentist will check your teeth, gums, and jaw for signs of teeth grinding, and you may need dental treatment if it’s proven worn. This can help avoid developing bigger problems such as infection or dental abscess.

If your teeth grinding is stress-related, see your GP. If you are dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression, you can talk to a therapist or a sleep specialist. Bruxism caused by sleep disorders must also be consulted with a sleep specialist to prevent any more damage that the grinding of the teeth may cause.