What Causes Teeth to Grind at Night and How Can I Protect My Teeth?

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What Causes Teeth to Grind at Night and How Can I Protect My Teeth?

  1. Home
  2. Dental Articles
  3. TMJ Articles
  4. What Causes Teeth to Grind at Night and How Can I Protect My Teeth?

Teeth grinding. It’s brutal, and it’s bruxism.

It’s involuntary, it’s subconscious. It’s clenching, it’s grinding, it’s gnashing. It’s disturbing to hear and distressing to do – which is why it usually happens when while you’re asleep. It’s not unusual to not even know that you do it; particularly if there’s nobody to give you a night-noise report.

The cause is generally related to stress, inadequate and disrupted sleep, vitamin deficiencies and a basic imbalance in work and lifestyle, however that reveals itself. The use of recreational drugs is also included in this blame-list – particularly stimulants like cocaine, speed and MDMA, with which nightclub ‘gurning’ and ‘bruxing’ is associated. (Cute names for such an insidious thing. As humans, we do that a lot.)

These drugs cause uncontrollable jaw clenching, sometimes accompanied by lip biting. It is so common a side-effect that many ravers carry oral pacifiers on them. For a less conspicuous way of saving their TMJs and teeth, they constantly chew gum.

These are both reflex actions that occur when a discrepancy is perceived between ‘optimal’ and ‘actual’ bite: teeth naturally want to have certain contact with other teeth, in orders to protect the soft parts of the mouth from any damage.

Stimulants heighten all our evolutionary reflexes – this one included.

For all the flogging illegal drugs get, bruxism is a massively under-recognised adverse effect of prescription medications; particularly anti-psychotics, and serotonin re-uptake inhibitors used to treat anxiety and depression: a global market that grew from $14.3 billion annually in 2019 to $27 billion in 2020 as a result of the impact of COVID-19 on mental health worldwide.

That’s an awful lot of gnash packs.

Nutritional deficiencies also make it into the blame frame; commonly, increases in vitamin B5, calcium, zinc and magnesium dietary can help a lot. If you think you’re too busy or too lazy to improve your actual fresh food intake, don’t think supplements will fit the bill entirely. Your teeth grinding is a wake-up call, not a permanent affliction.

Time to reassess how you’re living your life.

A lack of magnesium and calcium robs muscles of flexibility, compromises bone strength and cartilage health, and debilitates nerve function. Interestingly, some prescription medicines deplete magnesium and calcium in the body, so it may be worth a visit to your GP if you find it difficult to relax your jaw muscles of excess strain and tension.

Dental treatments include nighttime bite splints and tooth damage repair; top cosmetic and restorative dentists also always recommend stress management therapy. Ironic in a way; a recent study Medical Education published of 477 dental, nursing, and pharmacy students found that 27.5% were experiencing psychiatric levels of distress. Closely associated with perfectionism, they also experienced the imposter phenomenon – fear of being discovered as an intellectual fraud.

We’ve all been there …

Bruxism has far-reaching dental health consequences. While it is natural to clench your teeth occasionally, sustained grinding causes extensive damage, and absolutely affects the rest of your body.

It flattens, fractures and chips your teeth. It causes teeth to loosen, and wears away the enamel. It makes the jaw muscles fatigued and in pain, and often branches out to face, neck and ear ache. Headaches, and persistent difficulty sleeping can plague. There may be tissue damage and bleeding to the inside of your cheeks.

If you’ve not really considered whether you’re a contender, the most obvious symptoms are a headaches and a sore jaw.
There are several approaches to relief, and the most imperative is seeing your dentist, and considering some useful life changes.

Losing enamel from your teeth makes them more vulnerable to cavities and your dentist will custom-make a splint or mouth guard that will be more comfortable and more therapeutic than anything over the counter. Wearing an overnight oral device is one of the best ways to deal with bruxism.

Chew nothing but food. If you believe cow-cudding gum all day and chewing ice takes the pressure off, this terrible, jarring repetition keeps your jaw clenched and tense.

Say ciao-for-now to foods that take a lot of chewing: steak, popcorn, jerky, whatever it is for you further fatigue your jaw and associated muscle groups. You don’t have to exactly eat through a straw, just limit your nutrient intake to the readily digested, and slow it down a bit.

Be mindful. Drink more water.

Exercise. If you already do, exercise more. Add a few sweat sessions to your weekly routine to really release the stress and tension that’s manifesting itself by wrecking your teeth and making life harder.

If you can, take a warm bath before bed to relax your jaw. Stand under a warm shower and spend a few minutes with each side of your jaw massaged by the spray. Put on your jammies and hold a heat pad, or warm, wet towel to the sides of your face.

Drink herbal tea to warm and relax your mouth and give the hinges of your face a massage. Do something that makes you laugh and reframe a stressful day.

Practice mindfulness and release the anxiety. Notice specific times or situations that your clenching is more pronounced. Drop your jaw, let it hang for a moment and then gently move it into a more relaxed position.

Bruxism is sometimes a momentary discomfort but more often than not, it’s the grinding gateway leads to some severe, and irreversible side effects. Letting it rule and rob your life of the quality you deserve is like driving a car into the ground when all it ever really needed was a regular oil change.


The content has been made available for informational and educational purposes only. New Gisborne Dental House does not make any representation or warranties with respect to the accuracy, applicability, fitness, or completeness of the content.

The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional personal diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a dental or medical condition. Never disregard professional advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read or seen on the Site.

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