3 minute read

Teeth grinding or clenching (bruxism) is a common habit that may be done involuntarily or even unconsciously while sleeping. Bruxism doesn’t always need treatment, but it may lead to problems such as pain, sensitivity or tooth damage if it’s not corrected.

It can often be hard to tell if you have bruxism, especially if it happens while you’re asleep. Some people only learn they have bruxism when they visit the dentist for their regular check-up. Dentists know how to spot the signs of teeth grinding and can explain your treatment options.

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What is bruxism?

What is bruxism?

Bruxism is defined as repetitive jaw muscle activity that may involve grinding or clenching the teeth or bracing or thrusting the lower jaw. There are two main types of bruxism, depending on whether it happens when you’re asleep or awake.

Sleep bruxism

It’s thought that between 5.5% and 8% of adults grind or clench their teeth at night. Sleep bruxism can be harder to diagnose and prevent than awake bruxism, as the person is not aware of or able to control their grinding. The sound of sleep bruxism may be noticed by other people in the household, or the condition may not be identified until diagnosed by a dentist.

Awake bruxism

Bruxism that happens while awake may be done intentionally or as an unconscious habit. It’s estimated that around 20% of people experience awake bruxism in some form, which can range from mild and infrequent to severe and persistent.

What causes teeth grinding?

People may grind or clench their teeth for many different reasons, including psychological and physical causes, or as a side effect of a medical condition or medication. These causes may include:

  • Feelings of stress or anxiety
  • Concentration
  • Dehydration or malnutrition
  • Uneven or misaligned teeth
  • Problems affecting the jaw or temporomandibular joints (TMJ)
  • Medical conditions, such as epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease
  • Other sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)
  • Medications, particularly some antidepressants or antipsychotics
  • Consuming alcohol, coffee, tobacco or illegal drugs
  • Teething in children

Dentists will aim to understand all possible causes of bruxism when planning or recommending suitable treatments.

How can I tell if I grind my teeth?

You might be aware of grinding or clenching your teeth if this happens while you’re awake, or if someone tells you that you do it in your sleep. If you’re not aware of grinding, you might have other common symptoms associated with bruxism, such as:

  • Pain or fatigue in the jaw muscles or TMJ pain
  • Worn, damaged or loose teeth
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Headache, ear pain or neck pain
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing or speaking (in more severe cases)

If you grind your teeth at night, these effects may be more noticeable after waking up in the morning.

It’s important to see a dentist if you are experiencing any pain or other unusual symptoms that may be related to your teeth or jaws.

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What signs do dentists look for?


Your dentist may be able to determine whether you have bruxism by examining your teeth and mouth and asking about your symptoms. They may also ask about your medical history or medications you’re taking, your sleep habits and other common risk factors.

Signs dentists will look for during the examination include:

  • Excessive tooth wear
  • Chipped, cracked or loose teeth
  • Broken or loose fillings
  • Issues with tooth mobility
  • Bumpy, swollen or scalloped tongue (showing a wave-like appearance)
  • Tongue or cheek sores from biting

You may be referred to your dentist if you visit a doctor for a headache or other pain that they think might be caused by bruxism.

Treatments for teeth grinding

If your dentist determines that you have bruxism, they will discuss your treatment options. These may aim to address the likely cause of bruxism as well as reducing its effects.

Depending on what’s causing your bruxism, and how severe it is, treatment may involve a range of approaches, and may involve seeing different professionals.

Bruxism treatment may not be considered necessary in all cases, such as if your bruxism is mild or may be temporary.

Relaxation exercises

If awake bruxism is thought to be related to feelings of stress or anxiety, dentists may recommend relaxation techniques, such as mindfulness and meditation, that can be practised at home and could help to prevent or reduce grinding.

In other cases, your dentist may refer you to a mental health professional who has the training and experience needed to help you.

Modifying sleep habits

Sleep bruxism can be more likely to occur if you have poor quality sleep. Taking steps to improve your sleep hygiene and avoid lifestyle habits that impact on sleep may help to reduce or prevent teeth grinding at night.

Depending on their expertise, your dentist may be able to offer personalised advice about improving your sleep, or they may refer you to a specialist for guidance.

Night guard

If sleep bruxism is causing discomfort or damaging your teeth, your dentist may recommend wearing a device known as an occlusal splint or night guard. This is a custom-made appliance that fits over the teeth like a mouthguard and prevents them from grinding together while you sleep.

A mouthguard can be effective for reducing symptoms of bruxism, preventing further damage and protecting dental restorations, but other treatments may also be needed to address the cause of the condition.

Dental treatments

If bruxism may be caused by an uneven bite, or has caused damage or wear to your teeth, your dentist can discuss suitable treatments to address these issues.

This may involve restoring worn, damaged or irregular teeth using fillings or crowns, orthodontic treatment to straighten a crooked bite, or extraction of problematic teeth, such as wisdom teeth.

Medical treatments

If teeth grinding is thought to be linked to an underlying medical condition, your dentist will refer you to your doctor or another suitably qualified professional who can provide the care you need.


The effectiveness of medications for treating bruxism is inconclusive, but some studies have found that cosmetic injections administered to the jaw muscles may help to reduce TMJ pain.

These treatments may only be effective as a short-term measure and may not be an option for all patients, depending on their risk factors.

Book a consultation with a dentist in Kelmscott

If you’re worried about teeth grinding or any other problems with your teeth or jaws, make an appointment with our team at Kelmscott Dental today by calling (08) 9495 7999 or booking online.

We’ll arrange a convenient time when one of our experienced dentists can examine your mouth, discuss your symptoms and explain what options there are to help you. We welcome patients from Armadale, Gosnells and other nearby suburbs.

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  1. Guaita, M., Högl, B. Current Treatments of Bruxism. Curr Treat Options Neurol 18, 10 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11940-016-0396-3
  2. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/teeth-grinding