Why do I grind my teeth while sleeping?

Do you often wake up with aching teeth, a stiff jaw or unexplained headaches or earaches? You could be one of the many people who grind their teeth while asleep, without even knowing it.

Teeth grinding (bruxism) is a common condition that can have many different causes. Finding out what's causing your bruxism is the key to getting successful treatment.

How do I know if I grind my teeth?

Bruxism can affect both adults and children, though it's most common in people between the ages of 25 and 44 according to The Bruxism Association.[1]

Most teeth grinding (around 80%) happens while sleeping, so you might not know that you're doing it unless someone tells you. But there are signs you can look out for, such as:

  • pain in your teeth, face or temples when you wake up
  • headache, earache or pain in your jaw joints
  • difficulty opening your mouth wide when you eat
  • unexplained damage to your teeth or fillings
  • your teeth feeling more sensitive to temperature.

If you notice that you're grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw during the day, there's a good chance that you grind your teeth while sleeping too.

What causes teeth grinding?

Bruxism can happen for different reasons, which may be physical or psychological.

Some people notice that they grind their teeth or clench their jaws when they feel angry, anxious or stressed, while others tend to do it when concentrating. Most teeth grinding that happens in sleep is thought to be related to stress and anxiety.

Grinding can also happen if the biting surface of the teeth is uneven, or if dental treatments such as fillings are built too high on the tooth. Teething in babies and children can also trigger grinding, but this is usually only short-term.

Certain medical conditions are often linked with bruxism, such as obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), as well as medications such as antipsychotics and antidepressants (particularly SSRIs).

Regular alcohol consumption, smoking and drug use all increase the risk factor for bruxism.

How can my dentist help?

You should see your dentist any time you notice something unusual with your teeth. Even if you think your teeth grinding is harmless, it could be causing permanent damage to your teeth, affecting your sleep and putting strain on your jaws, your joints and other parts of your body.

During your appointment, your dentist will check your teeth for signs of damage and ask you questions about your teeth grinding habits that will help them to recommend treatments. Depending on the cause of your bruxism, this may involve:

  • repairing worn or damaged teeth
  • orthodontic treatment to correct a misaligned bite
  • providing an occlusal splint to be worn at night.

However, if your teeth grinding is caused by stress and anxiety, treating the symptoms won't make the problem go away. Your dentist may refer you to other services such as stress management or cognitive behaviour therapy to help you stop grinding for good and get a good night's sleep.

Find out more about bruxism mouthguards

If you or someone in your family grinds your teeth at night, talk to our dentists in Perth's Northern Suburbs about custom-fitted night-guards and other treatments.

Call Ocean Reef Dental Surgery on (08) 9307 6700 or make an enquiry online.

[1] https://www.bruxism.org.uk/what-is-bruxism.php