Do You Grind Your Teeth? Why Are We Always Asking?

Man holding his jaw in pain wondering if teeth grinding is the source

At some point in their lives, 50% of the population experiences tooth grinding, technically known as Bruxism1. That’s why your dentist commonly asks: do you grind your teeth? There are many causes, and it occurs as frequently in children as it does in adults. Have you heard your child clicking or grinding their teeth when they sleep? If you do, ask your Pediatric Dentist if they detect the tell-tale signs.2

Why do you grind your teeth?

There are two main types of destructive tooth patterns: clenching and grinding.

Clenching usually occurs when people are awake and is often associated with anxiety, stress, concentration, certain types of exercise, and as a side effect of common medications. You might not even realize you clench your teeth, but often people will notice tight jaw muscles and frequent headaches. Modifying one’s behavior or becoming more conscious of the destructive habit will help to reduce the intensity and duration of clenching.

Typically grinding occurs during sleep and can sometimes be a symptom of a deeper root problem such as sleep disorders. Sinus, Temporal Mandibular Joint issues and even middle and inner ear concerns may also be the culprit.

If you wake up with a sore jaw or even sensitive teeth, there is a good chance you may be grinding at night. Nighttime grinding can often be responsible for chipped teeth or broken fillings, this due to an increase in muscle forces not customarily experienced during the day. Studies have shown that the strength of our bite may increase threefold during sleep.

Excessive wear of the primary dentition is a common finding in children, and if your child experiences significant attrition of the biting surfaces, your Pediatric Dentist will point this out during a regular exam visit. Common and lingering childhood health complaints such as upper respiratory ailments are often associated with early bruxism. Childhood grinding is not a good predictor of a future bruxing habit. Fortunately, the affected primary teeth are rarely sensitive, unlike the discomfort noted in the worn adult teeth.

What can you do?

Steps to preventing tooth wear

If you think you might clench or grind your teeth or you suspect that your child or partner might experience this common issue, there’s hope.

  1. Talk to your dentist. Before your dentist asks you, “do you grind your teeth”, adults should ask their dentist if he or she noticed any unusual tooth wear. Monitoring which teeth are wearing and in which pattern is the first step to treatment.
  2. Protect your teeth. For teens and adults, an easy fix can often be a custom bite splint worn at night or a thinner version worn during the day. This guard will create a protective barrier between the upper and lower teeth and help prevent premature wear. The splint can do double duty by protecting the teeth and any fillings or crowns, as well as decreasing the force your muscles exert during clenching and grinding.
  3. Check your bite. You may be referred to an orthodontist if your dentist finds that an irregular bite is a cause. Or a simple bite adjustment may create a surprisingly quick and effective result.
  4. Consider medication. It is also worth evaluating medications. Sometimes altering a prescription will help alleviate issues with grinding or clenching.

Protective guards are not a satisfactory remedy for childhood grinding as the appliance will need to be adjusted or replaced as permanent teeth erupt into the mouth. Thankfully, damage to primary teeth is usually limited and not painful and not a good predictor of future problems.

A young boy sleeping restfully after stopping his teeth grinding

Stop teeth grinding in its tracks!

If you don’t take steps to relieve your grinding, over time you can experience painful, serious, and long-term negative consequences to your health. Talk to your San Diego dentist if you think someone in your family grinds his or her teeth. It could save their teeth and give them a better night’s rest!

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1 Manfredini et al. Epidemiology of Bruxism in Adults. J Oral Pain 2013.
2 Machado et al. Prevalence of sleep bruxism in children. Dental Press J Orthodontics 2014.


If you answered “yes” to the question, “do you grind your teeth”, do you have any questions for Dr. Singer? Leave us a message!

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