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Grinding or Clenching


The habit of grinding or clenching your teeth can affect your teeth while you are awake or asleep.

Long-term or severe grinding or clenching can lead to tooth, jaw muscle, and jaw joint damage (TMD). It can also lead to additional dental and medical treatment, including fillings, crowns, orthodontics, jaw surgery, and the need for prescription medication.

The cause of grinding or clenching is not entirely understood. It may be caused by a combination of physical, psychological, and genetic factors. It's important to consider that the resulting tooth wear may be a result of past grinding or clenching. It is not necessarily an indication that a current habit exists.

Factors that can increase your risk of grinding or clenching your teeth include:

  • Emotional or psychological stress or anxiety
  • Sleep apnea
  • A competitive personality
  • Misalignment of teeth
  • Tired or sore jaw muscles, often noticeable when you wake up.
  • Pain in your jaw joints when you bite or close your mouth.
  • Clicking, popping, locking, or grating in your jaw joints.
  • Frequent muscle tension headaches, especially near your temples.
  • Chipped or worn teeth.
  • Failing dental restorations.
  • Craze lines, cracked teeth, or flat spots that become noticeably worse over time.

At each dental visit, your dentist will examine your teeth and review your health history. If they see signs of grinding or clenching, or if you tell them about symptoms you are having that may indicate grinding or clenching, they will discuss ways to treat the issue. The most important thing for your dentist to determine is whether the habit is currently active or whether the signs were from a past habit.

If you are experiencing grinding or clenching, there are some steps you can take to reduce your habit.

  • Take action to reduce your stress and anxiety through exercise, adequate rest, and proper nutrition. You may also consider techniques such as biofeedback, meditation, or yoga.
  • Talk to your physician about medications to help control anxiety and stress.

If you find your grinding or clenching symptoms worsening, speak with your dentist about your concerns.

Some things to expect at your visit include:

  • You and your dentist will discuss your symptoms, how long you have had them, and what you may think causes them.
  • Your dentist may photograph wear marks and other signs on your teeth to evaluate them for changes over time. Often there will be at least one good tooth location (for example, the tip of a particular tooth) to compare from one visit to another. Your dentist may also make a digital bite analysis or cast record of your teeth at one visit and another diagnostic record in the future to determine changes over time. If no symptoms are present or worsening, the signs may suggest you do not currently have a grinding or clenching habit and may not need further treatment at this time. However, your dentist may still recommend treating teeth damaged from a past grinding or clenching habit.
  • If your grinding or clenching is chronic, your dentist may recommend an occlusal guard, a repositioning appliance, or an occlusal adjustment to help reduce forces on your teeth, reduce tooth wear, control muscle contraction, and reduce the forces on your jaw muscles and joints.
  • If your dentist suspects your grinding or clenching results from misaligned teeth, they may recommend orthodontic treatment. If the improper alignment is minor, it may be fixed with a simple bite adjustment.

Author: Symbyos staff, Fluent staff
Last updated: 1/28/2022Medical review: Thomas J. Greany DDS, 12/22/2020
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