Causes of Bruxism and How to Treat It

Woman with tooth pain, holding her cheek

Bruxism Is a Common Medical Condition Evidenced by Grinding Teeth

Bruxism is a medical condition that is most common in women and kids and is evidenced by grinding teeth compulsively, mostly at night while asleep. However, many cases of bruxism occur during awake hours, especially when stressed or anxious and while in deep thought.

A Quick Overview on Bruxism

Most children will outgrow this disorder without treatment except in severe cases. Adults can develop this discomforting medical condition too. The symptoms can last briefly or continue for months and years depending on the specifics of each case and the presence of complications like damaged teeth, TMJ disorder, and others.


Fortunately, there are some current effective treatments for bruxism. The length of treatment measures to consider the treatment a permanent solution will depend on the severity of teeth grinding episodes, the underlying causes, and any complications present.

Possible Causes of Bruxism Explained

The exact cause of bruxism is unclear, but some theories include genetic, physiological, and psychological factors.


Two general bruxism types include awake bruxism and sleep bruxism.


  • Awake bruxism: When compulsive and repetitive teeth grinding occurs while the patient is awake, the causes may be stress, increased tension in the person’s life, anxiety, or a habit that develops when deep in thought. These cases are usually attributed to emotional issues.


  • Sleep bruxism: Sleep bruxism typically begins when an infant is teething, but this may occur later in children experiencing stress or severe underlying emotions like rage or anxiety.


  • Teeth grinding: Teeth grinding may also be developed as an adult. This is more common in women and children, at least for the first symptoms. Teeth grinding at night may be a self-calming mechanism that causes arousals during sleep of some sort.


Some potential risk factors can lead to the negative development of bruxism or tooth grinding.


These risk factors include:


  • Gender – It’s more common in females.


  • Age – Bruxism is more common in young children or older adults, usually with dementia or untreated emotional or psychological disorders in older individuals.


  • Personality types – Aggressive or highly competitive individuals tend to develop teeth grinding issues more often.


  • Genetic factors – Some experts on bruxism feel that certain hereditary factors may exist with bruxism development. A family history of bruxism plays a role in diagnosis.


  • Existence of other mental health disorders and epilepsy – These psychological and physiological disorders may increase the likelihood of bruxism development.


  • Certain medications – Some psychological medications and others may prompt the development of tooth grinding habits or compulsive behavior.


  • The use of alcohol or illegal drugs – Both the intake of illicit or misuse of drugs or alcohol may play a role in bruxism development.


  • Excessive use of caffeine and smoking – Excessive caffeine beverages and smoking may play a part in bruxism.

Complications of Untreated Bruxism

Severe complications of untreated bruxism can occur, including:


  • Severe head, jaw, or facial pain


  • Tension headaches


  • TMJ or temporomandibular joint disorders


  • Damage to jaw or teeth

Symptoms of Bruxism

You should talk with your dentist if you experience any of the below symptoms or they become severe or persist over a long time.


  • Insomnia or interrupted sleep


  • A tightened jaw or difficulties opening mouth wider


  • Tension or increase of headaches


  • Chipped, fractured, worn tooth enamel, and loosened teeth


  • Increased tooth pain and sensitivities


  • Persistent or increased ear pain with unknown cause


  • Clicking or discomfort when eating, speaking or yawning

How Bruxism Is Diagnosed

Diagnosis of bruxism is often delayed if the problem occurs during sleep. Diagnosis typically involves dental X-rays, a dental exam, or sleep studies to pinpoint the cause of symptoms during sleep.

A female dentist holding dental tools

How to Treat Bruxism Effectively

Mild or limited bruxism episodes do not generally require aggressive bruxism treatment measures


For severe cases, treatment will typically involve one or several treatment modalities that may include preventative self-care measures, behavioral therapies, dental-related therapies that may consist of restorative dental care, use of dental mouth guards to use when stressed or at night while asleep, certain medications, dietary changes, and other helpful treatment approaches.

Medications Used for Bruxism Treatment

The following medications may be recommended that include:


  • Muscle relaxers are usually used before bedtime or when extremely stressed.


  • Pain relievers – Caution is indicated with longer-term pain-relieving narcotics that may cause adverse side effects and are often addicting.


  • Botox injections – Botox may be used in more severe cases. Botox is a neurotoxin only to be administered by medical professionals. This treatment has been effective for preventing and decreasing stress-trigged headaches and other facial or jaw-related pain and discomforts.

Some Non-Medical and Self-Care Bruxism Treatment Options

The uses of natural or non-medical self-care bruxism treatments are recommended. These include:


  • Yoga, meditation, biofeedback, etc.


  • Avoidance of smoking, caffeine, and excessive alcohol consumption


  • Getting regular dental exams


  • Getting enough sleep


  • Seeking mental health therapies to decrease stress and anxiety

Procedures That Help Decrease Bruxism Symptoms, Episodes, and Complications

There are helpful other procedures that can deal with bruxism-related tooth complications. These procedures include:


  • Restorative dental care procedures – help to reshape and repair tooth-related problems.


  • Cosmetic dental care procedures – like crowns, dental implants, veneers, and bridges


  • TMJ Treatment – can help relieve jaw, ear, face pain related to this disorder and improve the function of the jaw



Tooth grinding, or bruxism, is common but can cause serious complications, including tooth pain, TMJ-related problems, and more. There are suitable treatment measures that can help treat the aggravating symptoms and may help prevent the episodes from occurring in the first place.

The Family Dental Center, located in Coralville, IA, is here for all your dental needs and can help you if you are suffering from bruxism. Call us today to schedule an appointment.

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