The Painful Truth About Nighttime Teeth Grinding vistadentistry

We all crave the sanctuary of sleep after a long day, but what if your mouth doesn’t sleep as soundly as your body? 


Millions of Americans suffer from the condition of nighttime teeth grinding, also known as bruxism. If you’re among the 8% of adults with this sleep disorder, you may not even know it. 


In fact, you may be coping with side effects like tooth sensitivity, headaches, and jaw pain without understanding the root cause at all. Here’s what you need to know about this dangerous habit of nighttime teeth grinding and how you can stop it. 

Why Do I Grind My Teeth?

If you have bruxism, you clench and grind your teeth while you sleep. This nighttime gashing may be triggered by a few different causes.

Medical Conditions

Antidepressants, antipsychotics, and amphetamines are all known to cause nighttime teeth grinding. If you’re using any medications that fall under those categories, they have the potential to cause this issue while you sleep. There are also neurological conditions like Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease that may cause uncontrollable gnashing behaviors. 

Anxiety and Stress

Research suggests that daytime stress and anxiety play a huge role in nighttime grinding. You’re more likely to clench your jaw and move it back and forth while you sleep if you’re consumed by worry and stress over issues relating to your finances, career, or relationships. Even though you’re meant to rest during sleep, your mind and body continue to react to the stressors of the day. 

Teeth Problems

Existing dental problems can also exacerbate grinding behavior. Misaligned teeth, known as occlusion, prevent your teeth from meeting correctly when the jaw opens and closes. This makes it easier for clenching and gnashing to occur, especially if your facial muscles start to spasm. 

Signs and Symptoms of Nighttime Teeth Grinding

Nighttime teeth grinding is tricky to identify because it occurs when you’re completely unaware of the behavior. Since chronic clenching and grinding put so much pressure on the muscles, tissues, teeth, and other structures around the jaw, symptoms can be felt long after the grinding stops and the sun rises. 


A few of the most common bruxism symptoms include the following:

  • Jaw pain and stiffness
  • Sore gums
  • Sensitive or broken teeth
  • Clicking jaw joints
  • Chronic dull headaches
  • Earaches
  • Flat, short, or blunt teeth surfaces


If you sleep in the same bed or room as another person, you can ask that person to listen for sounds of grinding overnight. The scraping sound of teeth grinding over each other is usually disruptive, unpleasant, and easy to hear. 

How Does Nighttime Teeth Grinding Hurt My Mouth?

Chewing food, talking, smiling, and feeling confident are all made possible by a full and healthy set of teeth. Bruxism threatens the health of your teeth by wearing them down, sometimes to stumps. When your teeth become fractured, loose, or damaged, you may find yourself needing bridges, crowns, implants, or even dentures in order to save your mouth and reduce your pain. 


In addition to the direct damage to your teeth, bruxism also can lead to tension headaches, facial pain, and a condition called TMJ disorder that is defined by problems with the jaw and facial muscles. All of these problems cause enough pain to interrupt your daily activities and create unbearable suffering. 

Preventing and Treating Bruxism

Though the consequences of bruxism are painful and frightening, there are many ways your dentist can help you prevent and treat your nighttime teeth grinding. 


Try these tips to reduce your grinding triggers overnight:

  • Use stress-reduction techniques
  • Sleep in a cool, dark, quiet room
  • Remove all sources of blue light (TVs, computers, phones) from your room
  • Sleep on your side or stomach


Treatment for nighttime bruxism requires some creativity since it’s out of your conscious control. 


One popular, painless, and non-invasive solution involves the use of a mouthguard. High-quality, custom-made mouthguards provided by your dentist use a soft polyurethane inner layer that rests comfortably along the teeth and gums, and a hard, durable copolyester outer layer to alleviate grinding and clenching. This type of careful mouthguard design can resolve the pain and damage caused by bruxism, especially severe tooth, jaw, and facial pain. 


Certain lifestyle changes can also minimize the intensity of bruxism. Consider making these adjustments to reduce your risk of bruxism:

  • Cut back on foods and beverages with caffeine and alcohol since they are known to cause the tension, anxiety, and aggression that commonly lead to grinding and clenching. 
  • Avoid chewing gum or biting on objects like pencils, pens, and nails. 
  • Decrease anxiety with essential oils, a relaxing bath, better time management, or other strategies

Get Your Dentist’s Help to Save Your Teeth

Left untreated, nighttime teeth grinding can wear down your teeth and leave you in chronic pain. If you have been experiencing frequent jaw discomfort, daytime fatigue, or dull headaches, ask your dentist to examine your mouth for signs of bruxism.


Your dentist will use a clinical examination to identify the extent of your bruxism and suggest potential causes. Whether you need to realign your bite, treat an underlying health condition, or use a mouth guard, your dentist is the best person to guide you through the treatment process.


Dr. Yaron Miller and his team at Vista Dental Care are proud to provide specialized dental services to patients throughout San Diego County, including bruxism treatment. As a member of ADA, CDA, and SDCDC, Dr. Miller has the experience and expertise to help you overcome your painful nighttime teeth grinding symptoms and sleep peacefully once again!