Causes of Bruxism

Could you be suffering from bruxism?

People tend not to take teeth grinding very seriously; however, it is a disorder that may lead to serious dental issues when left unaddressed in its early stages. Tooth grinding or clenching is also referred to as bruxism. It affects millions of people the world over, and in fact is the third most commonly reported sleep disorder. People with bruxism often grind their teeth while they are asleep, and in fact may not even be aware at first that they have a problem. However, their grinding will often wake them up several times during the night, even if they have no idea why they have done so. At the very least, nightly grinding habits prevent sufferers from entering the deeper levels of sleep, which are crucial to wellbeing. Many other people also clench or grind during the day, particularly when they are under stress.

Many clinical studies in this field have arrived at the conclusion that bruxism is very common, and in many cases, its side effects are so mild that no treatment is required. Nevertheless, the consequences arising from moderate to severe cases can be quite debilitating. Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic confirms that serious bruxism cases usually lead to other dental problems and mouth disorders, as well as headaches and jaw pain.

Causes of bruxism

Bruxism is found in all age groups and in people from all socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. However, its causes are varied. While medical professionals largely believe anxiety and stress are the main causes of bruxism, dentists argue that it can also arise simply as a consequence of improper dental alignment. Below, we list the various known causes of the disorder and explain each one.

Emotional and mental causes

Doctors insist that emotional or mental disturbances are usually the root cause of a bruxism habit. Even when the disorder of teeth grinding is linked to other health concerns, a change in the stress and anxiety levels of a patient can easily trigger a grinding episode. Several clinical studies support this theory. Let us consider some common scenarios in modern life:

1. Stressful lifestyle patterns – It’s no secret that our modern lifestyle can be fast and stressful most of the time. This pressure can even start to show in people’s mouths. Each year, there are more reported cases of people who habitually grind and clench their teeth. Commonly, this occurs during sleep, but there is also an increase in the number of daytime bruxers.

Studies indicate that bruxism is a way for the body to mitigate stress. In our ancient past, scientists believe that early humans probably used the jaw, tongue, teeth and facial muscles to display an aggressive stance when threatened. Nowadays, when we feel pressure, all we can do is moderate or suppress the negative emotions. Teeth grinding is common, but this theory could also explain some of the reasons behind emotional eating and nailbiting.

Bruxing is a mammal’s subconscious attempt at decreasing stress levels. Even rats brux! Specific studies have shown that bruxing reduced the level of stress hormones in the bodies of rats.

Relaxation techniques and exercises can be deceptively simple, but when they are properly practiced, they can lessen your anxiety levels tremendously and provide you with useful coping strategies for times of increased pressure.

Consider the wider impact of the world’s recent financial crisis: This event devastated the economy, and also impacted negatively on the general health of millions. A Telegraph article stated that, since the recession, cases of teeth grinding have increased. Clearly, stress is a contributing factor here.

Another recent example is the unrest in Israel: The fact that Israel’s economy and security has deteriorated in recent years has adversely affected the health of the population. Israeli dentists are reportedly diagnosing many more people with stress-related bruxism than in previous decades. Many patients report an inability to sleep well due to head, neck and jaw pain, and others awaken in the morning with persistent dental pain and headaches.

2. Suppressed or unexpressed anger – Researchers at America’s Mayo Clinic conducted studies that found people experiencing a moderate to high degree of frustration or anger were likely to suffer from episodes of bruxism as well. In particular, those who felt they were unable to vent their anger frequently clenched their teeth.

Many people have a great deal of anger and frustration, coupled with life circumstances that don’t allow them to express it. This leads to a high risk of developing a grinding habit. Even those who do typically show aggression towards other people (which is never a healthy way to vent frustration) will very often clench their jaws subconsciously. If you feel that your own negative emotions are causing your bruxism, it is advisable to seek help from a counselor or other mental health professional, as your grinding or clenching habit will return again and again until you manage to address your emotional issues.

3. Discomfort during the night – if you experience discomfort during the night, perhaps from uncomfortable bedding or a need to visit the bathroom, this could be all that is causing your bruxism. If you awaken frequently during the night, make a concerted effort to adjust your bedding and visit the bathroom, even if you feel it is unnecessary. Many people are amazed that these simple actions drastically reduce their teeth grinding and the resulting dental pain.

Further Causes – Researchers at Minnesota’s Mayo clinic list several further causes of bruxism, including sleep deprivation, general tension and overly aggressive, hyperactive or competitive personalities.

Physical causes

Emotional issues aside, sometimes teeth grinding habits are simply brought on either by what’s going on in a person’s body, or what they are putting into it. Below, we examine some of the main physical causes behind bruxism.

1. Teething – Teething can be a very uncomfortable process, both for babies with milk teeth emerging and children cutting their adult teeth. The pain that accompanies teething can cause many children to grind their jaws during sleep. For further information, please refer to Bruxism in Children.

2. Genetic Causes – Dr. Esther Gazit, a professor of orthodontics in Tel Aviv, supports the theory that bruxism has a strong genetic component. If you or your partner brux, the odds are that your children are also at risk of developing the habit.

3. Medication and illegal recreational drugs – Certain prescription medicines, including antidepressants and medications for ADHD and ADD, will often induce teeth grinding. It is vital that you consult your doctor before changing your dosage, however, if you have concerns in this area. Illegal drugs such as Ecstasy are well known to cause bruxism.

4. Illness and disease – Nervous system disorders like Parkinson’s disease, along with illnesses like Huntington’s disease, which affect the body’s neural system, are linked with bruxism. In fact, any illness that causes you stress or discomfort can lead to subconscious teeth grinding, so do remain aware of this fact.

5. Dehydration – Although it can be remedied very easily, dehydration is far more prevalent in today’s society than most people think. The majority of people have a large amount of caffeine in their system every day, which, combined with alcohol and smoking, seriously dehydrates the body. This leads to dry, cracking skin, constipation, dry mouth and headaches, all of which cause stress during sleep and may lead to bruxism.

6. Dental misalignment – Also known as malocclusion, poor alignment of teeth frequently causes involuntary grinding during sleep. If your teeth are misaligned, the only remedy is to see an orthodontist for treatment. Even if your teeth appear straight, contact between them may still be irregular, which will cause problems. Sometimes, only one protruding tooth can lead to bruxism issues. If this is the case, see your dentist about solving the issue.

Other anatomical causes – Studies conducted at the Mayo Clinic have also revealed that an abnormally structured jaw can also cause teeth grinding.


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