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Tooth grinding

Grinding your teeth together when you are asleep is surprisingly common. Most teeth-grinders are unaware that they do it, and find out only because their partner complains. When they wake up, they may feel discomfort or pain in the jaw, shoulders or neck, or have a headache, but they will not know the cause.

Causes of teeth grinding

Teeth grinding is sometimes caused by the upper and lower teeth not fitting together properly – dentists call this ‘malocclusion’. The grinding may be a subconscious attempt to grind the teeth down until they fit. Some people who grind their teeth have a problem with the joint of their jaw (where the jaw hinges onto the skull). Clicking or grating of the joint, or occasional locking of the jaw, suggests a joint problem.
Another possibility is stress. Dentists say that teeth grinding is becoming increasingly common, which may be a sign that we live in a stressful society. Apparently teeth grinding usually occurs during the dreaming phases of sleep.

What you can do

Your dentist should be your first port of call. The dentist will tell you if there is abnormal wear and tear of your teeth, and whether the grinding has damaged the enamel. Serious damage to the enamel is fairly unlikely. Unfortunately, enamel does not repair itself (a design fault of the human body), so teeth might need to be crowned if the enamel has been damaged.
To help you break the grinding habit, your dentist may make a night-guard for you to wear. This is a plastic appliance that keeps the teeth apart and allows your muscles to relax into a normal position. Sometimes a dentist can relieve the problem by slightly grinding down some of your teeth, so they meet correctly – doing the job you were trying to do in your sleep.
If you think stress is a factor, work out ways of reducing it or coping. Look in your local library for self-help books on stress. Anything that helps to relax you, such as massage, yoga or exercise, would be worth trying.

Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Saturday, February 13th 2010


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Comments on this article

Posted by Gwendolyn Dominy on 12/12/2011 at 01:14

How do you stop teeth griding? I,my self have a teeth griding. I want to stop my teeth griding.

Posted by Brittany on 14/10/2011 at 03:06

I grind my teeth at night and I had a horrible bout of severel nerve pain that radiated from my jaw to nearly the front of my mouth on the top left section of teeth. My back molar was the worst and the only reason we knew it was from grinding my teeth was because I shouldn't feel pain in that tooth because it's had a root canal. I had to be on vicodin for a few weeks until I started wearing my new mouth guard and now I rarely have to wear the guard at night. Whew!

Posted by mummy of 2 on 04/04/2011 at 08:39

Hello. My husband grinds his teeth at night (extremely loudly) after looking it up on the internet we got him a mouth guard to try and stop it...he still trys grinding his teeth wearing this and it makes a horrible squeaking noise all night instead...not sure whats worse! My 2 children aged 4 and 6 also grind their teeth in there sleep...they have been checked by the dentist and he has said their teeth are fine and not to worry! Ear plugs it is for me then!......

Posted by on 14/10/2010 at 06:49

To amby, see our DocSpot on excessive saliva:

Posted by amby on 14/10/2010 at 04:43

pls i still need to view your comments on the problem of spraying spittle/saliva for some pple when speaking ( i have this problem) but your posting on this condition is no longer on your site

Posted by retired on 04/10/2010 at 03:40

Recently I had a bad tooth acke under a newish bridge.the dentist thinks it may be due to teeth grinding at night.The other syptoms are itching on my face in the morning(jaw and neck)also head pains,shoulder and neck ackes.He has referred me to a surgeon to have a gum shield made(good job I sleep alone)I am hoping it works for me.


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