Home » Resources Library » Bruxism


By Sasha de Beausset Aparicio, MSc

Last Updated:

What Is Bruxism

Bruxism is the involuntary clenching of the jaw or teeth grinding. Two types can be distinguished whether the person with the disorder experiences it during sleep or wake time. The type of the disorder seems to affect opposite sexes differently, women are more prone to wake bruxism then men.


There is no direct source for Bruxism; it is an illness that varies on more than one factor. It seems that both physical and mental causes can trigger it. Most cases are associated with high levels of stress and fatigue, but also irregularities in the physical structure of the teeth seem to be another reason for the disorder.

The most important causes seem to be any type of mood changing situations, induced by psychological factors, medication, or drugs. Even abrupt changes during sleep can cause it. Some cases appear at a very young age, when the teeth start growing and the child experiences discomfort or pain during sleep.

Stressful work environments where people are subjected to a high level of responsibility or similar social situations seem to contribute to the development of the disorder, but it is very hard to underline what type of psychological stress causes it, because at the same time it can be a symptom. Some people go as far as saying that bruxism can develop easily at people with certain personality characteristics that make them prone to a more stressful way of living.

Signs & Symptoms

This type of illness is diagnosed through circumstantial evidence, in most cases there are no witnesses to the subject’s disorder, so physical wear and tear of the teeth is taken into consideration as a sign, which usually leads to an increase of their sensitivity. Also, headaches after sleep and sore jaw muscles can be a significant sign, mainly because of the extra effort that the ill people do unconsciously during sleep that puts more stress on the jaw muscles.

In the case of sleep bruxism, stress is more of a symptom then a cause, as in the case of wake bruxism, so uncomfortable sleep can be taken into consideration. Also, in some cases, the cheek can be damaged while grinding the teeth which can cause pain.

Untreated bruxism can severely damage the normal biting position of the jaws or even the way the muscles allow the patient to open his mouth, which can lead to speech impediments and also severe pain. The joints that help move the jaw is stressed by doing an unnatural side to side movement, this can severely damage them. In severe cases the hearing of the patient can be affected by the unnatural development of the jaw muscles.

Moving teeth or damaged can also be a cause or a symptom, depending on the other factors that come into question and the time of their appearance. This also may lead to eating disorders, which can become a high stress factor for the patient, and so becoming a cause. Sleeping disorders are a common symptom that can be easily associated with other illnesses, especially if bruxism is not taken into consideration.

Diagnosis Bruxism

There are very few clinical methods that can diagnose this illness directly, but this are not available for the opened public, being more for research purposes; no quick and effective method has yet been created. The most popular method is to look at the evidence considering the type of suspected bruxism.

Each possible symptom is studied separately with the patient’s history in mind, especially to develop a time table of the moments they occurred. It is very hard for a doctor to give a direct diagnose, especially for people who have this disorder during sleep, when usually the sleep partner brings most of the information regarding symptoms like grinding noises. But in the lack of external observations, a conclusion is reached through a series of tests that eliminate other possible illnesses.

Treatment for Bruxism

The physical damage of the illness can be treated by repairing the damage to the teeth by a dentist. Another treatment done by the same doctor is realigning the teeth on both upper and lower jaw, which lower the chances of unconscious grinding during sleep, which occur if the teeth do not properly align when the jaws are clenched. Other treatments for the physical damage suffered by the patient are wearing a protective rubber mouth piece over the teeth, which protect the teeth during sleep.

The most popular treatment methods are for dealing with the stress factors that cause the disorder, especially in the case of awake bruxism. After the stress source is located, the treatment is specific to the nature of the source, by eliminating it or by a more long term approach through relaxation techniques or even hypnotherapy and other psychotherapy methods. In some cases, mood altering medication can be prescribed depending on the severity of the cause, but that can only be determined by a doctor, as in the case of a mistreatment it can become a cause itself for bruxism or other disorders.

Because mood alternations can be a source of stress, any type of mood altering substances are recommended to be avoided, like alcohol and coffee, which can dramatically intensify the emotional level that people are exposing themselves to.

Compulsive habits are also a source of stress, especially those involving chewing, which also stress the jaw muscles. Any unnatural movement of the jaw can be considered stressful and avoided, from a physical and mental point of view.

Massage is a very good relaxation technique and an alternative to muscle relaxant medication, which is recommended only in severe cases. But the best treatment remains a healthy physical and mental way of living, with plenty of exercise and other stress releasing methods.

The best treatment can be the patient’s awareness, most people are not aware of their condition, especially in the case of awake bruxism. If they become aware of their unconscious gesture, it may become easier to control it, with a proper explanation on how to understand and react to this situation. By doing conscious relaxation and control exercises, the patient improves his chances of recovery and also awareness always reduces the stress factor considerably.