Bruxism - Signs and Symptoms

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD
Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD

The habit of grinding, gnashing, grating, or clenching the teeth is termed bruxism, and millions of adults and children are affected by this condition. While its exact cause is unknown, most experts believe that bruxism can occur as a response to increased psychological stress.

Bruxism involves any type of forceful contact between the teeth, whether silent and clenching, or loud and grating. Estimates vary regarding the number of people who suffer from this condition and range from 50-95% of the adult population. Approximately 15% of all children also acquire this condition. Many people are not aware that they have this condition because they grind their teeth at night while asleep, although bruxism can occur during daytime hours as well.

Certain sleep disorders are accompanied by bruxism. Drinking alcohol and taking certain medications (for example, antidepressants) may worsen the bruxism. Malocclusion (improper alignment of the teeth) may also play a causative role or may determine the severity of symptoms related to bruxism. Children may develop bruxism as a response to a cold or other infection and are more likely to develop it when their parents are affected. Some studies show that persons whose personalities may be described as compulsive, controlling, precise, or aggressive have an increased incidence of bruxism.

Symptoms and signs of bruxism, which can vary from mildly irritating to medically dangerous, depending on the severity of the condition, include:

  1. signs of tooth wear, such as fractures of teeth and fillings
  2. facial or jaw pain
  3. making sounds of clenching or grating teeth while sleeping, often noticed by a sleeping partner
  4. headaches
  5. loose teeth
  6. gum damage
  7. tooth sensitivity

Treatment of bruxism involves either behavior modification, such as stress management and relaxation therapy, or mechanical devices such as mouthguards to protect the teeth from the forces of contact. Hypnosis and biofeedback therapies have also been used with success in some individuals with bruxism. If you believe that you may be suffering from bruxism, talk to your dentist, especially if you are experiencing unpleasant symptoms. He/she will be able to evaluate the severity of the problem, correct any existing damage, and help you decide among alternative treatments.


Last Editorial Review: 1/18/2006



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