Why is Grinding Your Teeth Bad?

Want to know why grinding your teeth is bad? We’ll discuss that and more in this guide.

If you’ve ever awoken to a sore jaw, a headache, or even an earache after sleep, then you may be experiencing some of the symptoms of teeth grinding (bruxism). While many people may be aware that they’re grinding their teeth, some who do it at night have no idea they’re doing it.

But how do you find out if you are grinding your teeth, and why is it so bad for your overall dental health? Bruxism is something that should be addressed, and if it is left untreated can cause damage to your teeth and gums over time. In this article the topics we’re going to cover include:

  • What bruxism is
  • How to find out if you’re grinding your teeth
  • Why grinding your teeth is so bad
  • How to reduce or stop grinding your teeth
  • How a dentist can help you stop grinding your teeth

What is bruxism and what are some of the causes behind it?

grown woman and man at the beach and the woman has her arms wrapped around the man and they are smiling
Teeth grinding is a condition that both children and adults can experience. Bruxism typically goes away once children get their permanent teeth, but if it continues, you should seek the help of your dentist.

Teeth grinding, or bruxism, is a condition that is commonly described as the grinding of the upper and lower teeth together. It can also result in the gnashing of your teeth, clenching your jaw, or biting down on your tongue or the inside of your cheeks. It can happen to both children and adults, and although it is more common in children, they tend to grow out of it as they age. 

Typically, there are two ways you experience bruxism. You can can have either:

  • Awake bruxism. This form of teeth grinding happens while you’re awake, and you may or may not be aware that you’re doing it.
  • Asleep bruxism. A more common type of bruxism is sleep bruxism, where you engage in teeth grinding, gnashing, or clenching while you’re asleep. Most people with this type of bruxism are not aware they’re doing it.

There are different levels of bruxism, ranging from occasional grinding to severe gnashing of the teeth. People who experience sleep bruxism are likely to not even know they’re doing it, and are informed that they’re making noises by a partner or family member. However, there are also those affected by bruxism who don’t make any noises while they grind their teeth or clench their jaw. Coming in for a dental check up is the only way you’d know that they were grinding or gnashing their teeth at all.

What causes teeth grinding in the first place?

In adults, dentists attribute teeth grinding to:

  • Stress. Probably the most common reason for teeth grinding in adults is due to stress. Some people tend to exhibit bruxism while they’re awake and in a particularly stressful situation. Alternatively, the stress that has built throughout the day manifests as bruxism at night. 
  • Anxiety. Another major cause of bruxism is anxiety. Similar to stress, this can trigger teeth grinding or jaw clenching during waking hours or at night.
  • Concentration or tension. If you find yourself concentrating hard at work or need to work in a tense environment, the stress and anxiety that you may have because of these outside factors could manifest as bruxism. 
  • Sleep apnea.  People who grind their teeth have a greater chance of having other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or snoring. 
  • Medications. Certain medications, such as those used to treat depression, may cause bruxism.
  • Lifestyle choices. Using caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drugs could increase the risk of developing bruxism. 

These are only some of the reasons adults may develop teeth grinding. Additional factors that may increase your risk of bruxism include genetics, as it can run in families, and your personality type. People who are more competitive just by nature may find that bruxism can be a result.

Teeth grinding and children

As we mentioned earlier, bruxism can affect both adults and children. Children can develop teeth grinding tendencies typically when their teeth first start to emerge as babies, and when their permanent teeth have come in. Most teeth grinding in children takes place during sleep, however there are cases where children clench their jaw or unknowingly grind their teeth during the day.

However, there are other reasons you may find your child grinding their teeth.

  • Misaligned teeth. If a child’s teeth have come in misaligned (whether it is when they are teething or getting their permanent teeth) there is the chance that they will be susceptible to bruxism. 
  • Pain. Teeth grinding can also be a symptom of pain. If a child has an earache or they are teething, bruxism is a common response. 
  • Stress. Although you may not want to consider it, children can experience stress that can lead to teeth grinding. Whether it’s from school or something stressful at home, a common response in children is nighttime bruxism. 
  • Medications or medical conditions. Just like in adults, children who are taking certain medications may also develop teeth grinding as a symptom. Conditions such as hyperactivity may also cause children to be more prone to develop teeth grinding. 

Most children eventually stop teeth grinding, and if they have it when they are very young, it is typically not a cause for alarm. A dentist will be able to diagnose whether or not a child is grinding their teeth and if there is a need to address the issue. 

What are the most common symptoms of grinding your teeth?

female dentist in the operation room smiling at the camera
It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of teeth grinding so you can have your dentist treat it. 

If you’re concerned that you may be grinding your teeth, you’re not alone. While seeing your dentist is always a good idea if you feel you’re experiencing bruxism, there are some other ways you may be able to tell that you’ve been grinding your teeth.

Worn down teeth

One of the first ways you may be able to see evidence of bruxism is when teeth appear to be worn down. When you find that you’re grinding your teeth, they will start to look more blunt and flat on the top. This is opposed to normal teeth that have all their natural shapes and grooves. Worn down teeth are the result of the lower and upper jaws grinding or gnashing together while you are asleep. This can also occur if you experience bruxism during the day, but you may (or may not) already be aware that teeth grinding is the cause of your worn down teeth. 

diagram illustrating the effects of teeth grinding and healthy teeth
https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.shoredental.com.au/dental-check-ups/teeth-grinding/&sa=D&source=docs&ust=1671475062237677&usg=AOvVaw1EVjophyY3H99BlZb1PSkS

Broken or chipped teeth

It’s not just blunt or worn down teeth that are a symptom of teeth grinding, but you can also put yourself at risk for broken or chipped teeth as well. As you grind, gnash or clench your jaw, this puts a lot of pressure on your teeth. Although tooth enamel is very strong and durable, when enduring this kind of stress, it can potentially break, crack or chip off. It may be that they are appearing shorter or flatter at the tips as you age.

If you’ve been taking care of your teeth with the proper oral hygiene, and you notice there is a crack or a chip in one, this is an issue you should consult your dentist about. Broken and chipped teeth should not be left alone, as they can continue to deteriorate and cause additional problems down the road for your teeth and gums such as decay, gum disease or loose teeth.

Jaw pain

If you’re waking up in the morning with a tight or painful jaw, you may be grinding your teeth at night. The grinding motion or clenching of the jaw muscles means that the muscles of your face and jaw are moving throughout the night. Although bruxism does not necessarily lead to conditions such as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), if it is not treated, it may. 

Grinding  your teeth or clenching your jaw all night alters your bite and gradually over time the teeth can become misaligned. When your teeth are no longer in their proper place, the muscles and joints of your face need to realign. This can cause you the pain you’re experiencing upon waking. When your jaw is out of alignment, this can lead to TMJ. 

If you have pain or tender spots on your jaw, face, neck, or around your ear frequently, there is something that should be addressed. In addition to jaw pain, bruxism can also make it difficult or painful to open and close your jaw properly. If it hurts to open your mouth, yawn or chew—or you hear a consistent popping sound when you do—it’s time to give your dentist a call. 

Sensitive teeth

Sensitive teeth can be a symptom of a variety of conditions such as a cavity, a worn down filling or even gum disease. But they can also be the result of worn teeth and exposed enamel due to bruxism. If you’ve never had teeth sensitivity before, and you’re starting to notice that hot and cold drinks or foods are causing you pain, it may be because of teeth grinding.

At this point you’d want your dentist to take a closer look at your teeth, and see if there is evidence that they’re wearing down. 

Headaches

In addition to jaw aches or ear aches, bruxism can also lead to headaches. Whether you’re grinding, gnashing or clenching your jaw, it is putting significant pressure on your facial muscles and joints. This can lead to headaches and facial aches. Many people mistakenly think that the pain they’re experiencing near their temples or on their face is just a headache from stress or a sinus headache. 

While this could always be the case, it could also be due to teeth grinding or jaw clenching at night. This is especially true if you’re experiencing additional symptoms along with headaches when you wake up.

Grit in your mouth

Waking up with grit in your mouth is a symptom of bruxism. The grit you have in your mouth will feel like sand, and it likely is from the grinding or gnashing you’re doing with your teeth at night. Grit is the small bits of tooth enamel that are being broken off due to the grinding. Do not disregard this symptom of bruxism, and make sure to call your dentist to have a look. 

Sores on cheeks or tongue

While grinding and clenching of the jaw is common with bruxism, it is also important to point out that you could also be clamping down and biting on your tongue or the insides of your cheeks. The easiest way to see if this is happening is if there are sores that consistently develop in these areas due to the unconscious biting or clenching you’re doing at night. 

Although you can get sores in your mouth for many other reasons, if they are showing up repeatedly, teeth grinding and biting could be the cause.

Disrupted sleep

No one wants to wake up feeling tired, but that is exactly what can happen when you’re grinding your teeth at night. This is due to the fact that your jaw movement could be waking you up and preventing you from enjoying restful sleep. Pain from your jaw, teeth or around your ears and neck area may be another reason you find yourself waking up a lot at night. 

Sleep issues such as sleep apnea can also lead to teeth grinding, so if you already have this condition, you may already be experiencing disrupted sleep. 

Partner or family member noticing

Of course one of the easiest ways to determine whether or not you’re grinding your teeth is when your partner or a family member notices and informs you. Teeth grinding and gnashing can sometimes be loud enough to wake other people in the room up, even if you are unaware that you’re doing it. 

Why is grinding your teeth bad?

What are the reasons why grinding your teeth is bad for your health?

symptoms that can warn you of bruxism chart
If you or a loved one is grinding their teeth, this is definitely something that should be addressed. In adults, teeth grinding may not just go away on its own, and you should discuss how you can alleviate the symptoms of bruxism with your dentist.https://moonlitskincare.com/blogs/pillow-talk/teeth-grinding

It’s important to take bruxism seriously, and here are the top reasons why grinding your teeth is bad for your health.

Weakened teeth lead to decay

The wear and tear that bruxism places on your teeth can lead to a weakening of the enamel. When the enamel of your teeth wears down, the potential for bacteria to enter the tooth is high. Because the tooth’s enamel has been weakened, it is very likely that your tooth will start to decay.

Over time and if left untreated, your weakened tooth becomes more likely to be loose, and in the worst type of scenario, may even become loose enough to fall out. 

Gum recession

When you grind or gnash your teeth, this causes the teeth to wear down on the chewing surface-- but also at the gum line. What isn’t often discussed is that in addition to your teeth wearing away, your gums can also start to recede. Enamel can be lost at the gum line as the tooth flexes, which can result in a notch into the inner layers of the tooth. Teeth with these indentations, called abfractions, can become very sensitive and weakened. 

When bacteria are not eliminated properly from the teeth, it can eventually lead to gum recession and gum disease. 

Jaw disorders

Misaligned teeth from bruxism not only increases the chance you’ll experience tooth decay and gum recession, but it can also lead to painful jaw disorders. Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) such as TMJ can develop as a result of untreated bruxism. Not only will this lead to pain in the facial muscles and joints, neck and shoulders, but it can also lead to difficulty talking, chewing and swallowing. This can make a significant impact on your well being.

Loss of dental work

Just as your natural teeth become worn after teeth grinding, so can any dental work you have in place. Fillings, crowns, bridges, and implants can all be affected by grinding, gnashing, and clenching in your sleep. 

Teeth grinding is not only bad for your oral health, it’s detrimental to your overall health as well. When your teeth are at risk for chipping or cracking, or when you’re waking up with pain on a consistent schedule, this can have a negative impact on your well being. Many times bruxism is also interfering with sleep, which can cause further disruption and prevents you from enjoying a healthy lifestyle.

schedule an appointment call to action at aspen dental

Ways you can reduce or stop grinding your teeth

Tips to reducing the chances you’ll grind your teeth

Once you know that you are grinding your teeth, there are certain behaviors you can change in order to reduce the bruxism occurrences. 

  • Reduce caffeine intake. Caffeine too late in the day may be exacerbating your tendency for bruxism. This is especially true if you’re prone to getting jitters or feelings of anxiety after caffeine consumption. Try to limit it to in the morning only, and do not consume it past the afternoon because it can be from caffeine withdrawals too.
  • Reduce or avoid alcohol. Although you may think alcohol can help you stay asleep, the opposite is in fact true. If you’re dealing with sleep disruption from teeth grinding, alcohol may actually make it worse. The tendency to grind your teeth may potentially increase after alcohol consumption.
  • Do not chew on items. Refrain from chewing on items throughout the day such as pens or pencils. 
  • Limit gum chewing. Likewise, chewing gum could also encourage your jaw and facial muscles to chew more than necessary. Teeth grinding on top of chewing gum may also increase any pain or soreness you’re feeling in your jaw.
  • Notice daytime jaw clenching or teeth grinding. Try to notice if you tend to clench your jaw or grind your teeth during the day. If you do catch yourself, open your jaw to relieve the pressure or place your tongue between your teeth. 
  • Relax jaw muscles at night. Try massaging your jaw and face before bed to encourage the muscles to relax. You could also place a warm compress to any areas that tend to be sore as a result of bruxism. 
  • Sleep. Sleep on your back in a neutral position (avoiding too many pillows or try rolling a towel to place under the neck for support), and no side sleeping.

How to help children reduce teeth grinding

If your child is waking up with a sore or painful jaw in the morning from teeth grinding, there are some things you can try to help reduce or eliminate the problem.

  • Reduce stress before bed. Sometimes it’s hard for anyone, even children, to wind down before bed. If a child is dealing with bruxism, try to reduce stress before bed by encouraging low stress activities such as reading, drawing, or listening to music. These activities tell them it’s time to slow down for the night and could help them go to sleep more relaxed.
  • Make sure they’re hydrated. Children need to stay hydrated just like adults. It’s important for children to stay hydrated, as dehydration could lead to an increased chance of teeth grinding. 
  • Encourage massage and stretching. Before bed, try to practice facial massages or stretching exercises to ensure the muscles and joints of the face are loose and relaxed. Neck and back misalignment and poor posture can trigger muscle imbalances that lead to clenching or grinding. Seek care from a professional for chiro/massage.
book your first visit aspen dental call to action

How can a dentist help with grinding teeth?

Your dentist can help you stop grinding your teeth

It’s always best to see your dentist if you think you have symptoms of bruxism. They can help you get fitted for a mouthguard that will protect your teeth from the damage that teeth grinding can inflict. You may also want to find ways to reduce your stress during the daytime, and change any habits that might be making it more likely to grind your teeth.

Teeth grinding is bad for your health if left untreated, so make sure you reach out to your dentist and discuss what options would be best for you, including other therapies that can help.

Your welcome starts here

Your new patient visit at Aspen Dental is our most important appointment together.

Book your first visit
Share on :

Related Blogs

When's good for you?

Schedule an appointment online or find an office.
Book your first visit