How to stop grinding your teeth

The clinical term of teeth grinding is called bruxism, and in most cases, people are unaware they do this as it usually occurs in their sleep. It’s one of the most common sleep disorders because it’s an unconscious neuromuscular activity.

Figures cited by the National Sleep Foundation suggest that 8 per cent of adults and between 14 and 20 per cent of children under 11 years grind their teeth at night. But some doctors suspect that number is much higher, as many people don’t even realise they do it while sleeping.

Grinding can wear down teeth, which can become short, blunt or even develop fractures over time.

It can lead to a variety of health problems, including:

  • Jaw pain and stiffness
  • Sore gums
  • Sensitive, loose or broken teeth
  • Stress fractures in teeth
  • Clicking or popping of jaw joints
  • Dull headache
  • Earache
  • Anxiety, depression
  • Insomnia

Why it happens

In children, grinding usually happens after the first teeth appear, and again when the permanent teeth emerge. It usually stops once the adult teeth fully erupt. However, if adults are still grinding their teeth many years on, there could be some lifestyle reasons.

These could be:


Research suggests stress and anxiety are the main reasons people grind their teeth. When we’re stressed, the bodies release large amounts of adrenaline and cortisol, which increase our heart rates, pump our blood and boost energy levels. Some people can react with nail-biting, leg bouncing and fidgeting, while some people can grind their teeth.


Some studies have found that certain medicines which affect dopamine levels in the brain such as antidepressant medication can often cause insomnia and teeth grinding as a side-affect. Certain antihistamine drugs may also be linked to bruxism due to a disinhibitory effect they have on the part of the brain that controls sleep and circadian rhythms.

Alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes

Reports have suggested that sleep bruxism is twice as common in people who drink alcohol and smoke and almost 1.5 times higher in people who drink excessive amounts of coffee.

The theory suggests the lighter the sleeper or more restless you are in your sleeping patterns, the more likely you are to grind your teeth in your sleep. Sleep specialists have seen a reduction or no grinding at all when people are in deep sleep or in the dream phase of their sleep cycle.

In addition, because caffeine is a stimulant, chocolate, coffee, sugary drinks and other high-energy drinks may trigger muscle activity and lead to teeth grinding because it may contribute to lighter sleep patterns.

Jaw issues or genetics

According to dentists, most people who talk to their dentists about teeth grinding also report that they know of one or more family members who also grind their teeth. There is strong evidence that suggests teeth grinding could be hereditary. There could also be reasons of where the jaw isn’t aligned correctly or the bite doesn’t align which could be the reason the teeth hit each other or glide past each other in a grinding way.

If the top and bottom teeth do not come together properly, this is called an occlusal discrepancy and your dentist will be able to recommend treatment for this. While there is a lot of research done on this topic, the researchers are yet to find an actual “bruxism” gene in DNA.


Your dentist will be able to suggest a treatment plan if it’s dental related, but otherwise, your GP may need to refer you to a physical therapist or sleep specialist if it is nocturnal bruxism. There is no cure for bruxism, but options are available to relieve symptoms, and an underlying cause can be dealt with.

Some options could be:

  • Getting enough sleep at night or exercising regularly may help.
  • A dentist may be able to recommend a dental mouth guard which can be worn at night to protect the teeth. Generic sports mouthguards are not advised, as they can come out of place, can be very bulky and cause more discomfort than they solve.
  • Avoiding foods and drinks that contain high concentrations of caffeine or alcohol may be beneficial, as these can increase grinding.
  • Practice wind down methods before bed to encourage better sleep.
  • For children, relaxation techniques like warm baths and bedtime stories before bed and reducing television and computer games right before bed.

Even if you are unsure whether bruxism is the cause, you should always mention your suspicions to your dentist. If you’re worried about teeth grinding for your children or yourself and what could be causing it, talk to one of our friendly staff at Withers Dental today!

Many Australians struggle with teeth grinding or bruxism—some at night, some during the day, and some intermittently.

We’ve discussed the causes. Now let’s talk about how to stop teeth grinding for good.

Here are a few tips to help you end your struggle with daytime or nighttime teeth grinding.

Try a mandibular advancement device

A mandibular advancement device (MAD) is a dental appliance used to treat obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). Studies show that short-term use of MADs can significantly reduce sleep bruxism.

These devices are similar to a standard dental mouthguard, also they have one crucial extra feature. MADs push the lower jaw forward slightly, tightening the muscles in the upper airway and preventing airway obstruction when you’re asleep.

Keep in mind—these devices are best used only for patients with a sleep disorder. If your teeth grinding has another cause, a standard custom mouthguard is a better choice.

Try a jaw massage

If you deal with intermittent jaw clenching—such as when you’re stressed out or worried—try a massage to relax your jaw muscles. There are special techniques you can follow to reduce tension in the jaw.

Here’s a quick temporalis muscle massage method to try:

  1. Sit up and place your feet flat against the floor.
  2. Place two or three fingertips above your ear and cheekbone—about two finger-widths higher.
  3. Clench your teeth and relax your jaw. This will help you locate the temporalis muscle.
  4. Using gentle, circular motions, massage the area.
  5. As you massage, move your fingers from the temporal area, to above your ear, to behind.
  6. Continue the process for about 30 seconds and repeat if necessary.

This method is just one way to relieve tension in your jaw. For other methods, consult your GP, dentist, or specialist for advice.

Manage stress and anxiety

In addition to the methods above, managing stress and anxiety in your life can improve bruxism symptoms. According to a 2011 study, teeth grinding is closely linked to anxiety, depression, and negative emotions in general.

If you believe your bruxism may be linked to emotional stressors, consider speaking with a therapist or psychologist about your experiences and tackle the problem at the source.

Talk to an expert

If you’re after professional advice about teeth grinding and how to treat your bruxism, get in touch with the experts at Withers Dental. We’ll happily answer your questions and tailor a treatment plan to suit your needs.

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