5 Causes That Trigger Teeth Clenching and What to Do About It

dental health_best guide to bruxism

It’s nearly impossible to survive without grinding or clenching your teeth since they are an integral part of eating, which is necessary to keep us alive. Almost everyone has ground or clenched their teeth before.

We clench our teeth when the top and bottom teeth clamp together and we grind our teeth when they move horizontally whilst they are clenched. This occasional grinding or clenching doesn’t induce any threat to dental health, however, it could ruin your teeth, if it becomes a habit.

Excessive grinding and clenching is called bruxism and is usually induced by stress or anxiety. Statistics show that about 8% of the adult population involuntarily clench or grind at night.

An estimated 20% of the general populace report awareness of teeth clenching. Studies show that bruxism declines with age. The condition seems to be prevalent among the younger generation with low rates recorded amongst the older generation.

Types of Bruxism

Experts have identified two basic types: Sleep bruxism and Awake bruxism. The former occurs during sleep while the latter occurs during wakefulness.

While both types can induce dental damage, the symptoms of sleep bruxism appear to be more severe on waking up, but becomes less severe during the course of the day.

Awake bruxism, on the other hand, does not show any symptoms of waking but becomes apparent over the course of the day.

Awake bruxism has been found in greater proportion amongst females whereas both genders suffer sleep bruxism in equal proportions. The causes of the two types of bruxism differ.

Bruxism not triggered by another medical condition is referred to as primary bruxism, while bruxism that is due to another medical condition is called secondary bruxism.

Causes that Trigger Teeth Clenching

Although medical experts are yet to fully understand the causes of bruxism, they say it may be the result of a combination of factors such as physical, psychological and genetic factors.

Experts infer that awake bruxism may be the result of the stress, frustration, anger, anxiety or tension. While sleep bruxism has to be associated with myriad factors.

Factors that increase the risk of bruxism include:

  • Stress and Anxiety:

Experts say one of the most common triggers of bruxism is emotional stress. This emotional dynamic may induce sleep and/or wake bruxism.

  • Allergies or blocked Nose:

Being a stuffy or dry room or unable to breathe through your nose as a result of allergies may promote more mouth breathing.

Mouth breathing is known to trigger the autonomic nervous system when sleeping. Once the autonomic nervous system is triggered, muscle activity goes out of control, inducing bruxism.

  • Excessive Alcohol or Caffeine:

Since excessive consumption of alcohol or caffeine affect the quality of sleep and overstimulate the brain, they can induce bruxism.

Research also shows that people that smoke are twice likely to develop bruxism compared to non-smokers.

  • Sleep Disorders:

Experts consider sleep bruxism a kind of sleep disorder. Sleep bruxism can also be induced by sleep apnea and snoring.

As the body reaches deep sleep, muscles are meant to fully relax, however, this can sometimes cause problems for the airways.

When the tongue is fully relaxed, it expands significantly. Researchers have discovered that those with a partial blockage in their airways are likely to grind and clench, in a bid to re-open the airway. They say airway obstruction may be a leading cause of sleep bruxism. Experts say for those who suffer sleep apnea, a night guard could worsen the condition and intensify bruxism.

  • Medication:

Some experts say that particular drugs (both prescribed or recreational drugs) may trigger bruxism. However, others refute this assertion, stating the absence of significant evidence to substantiate the claim that medications trigger bruxism.

Examples of drugs which some experts say may trigger the development of bruxism include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, dopamine agonists, tricyclic antidepressants, and amphetamines.


How To Treat Clenching and Grinding?

Treating bruxism often involves the reparation of dental damage that has already occurred as well as an attempt to inhibit the further development of the malaise, as well as manage symptoms.

However, there are yet to be clinically certified treatment techniques. Experts suggest that only conservative (and reversible) treatment techniques with low levels of risk be used.

The following are some of the techniques that may repair as well as help alleviate the effects of this dental issue:

  • Good Sleep Hygiene:

The first step to treating sleep bruxism is practicing good sleep hygiene. A good sleep hygiene strategy would include the restriction of caffeine, alcohol consumption and smoking as well as limiting mental activity before bed. Consumption of alcohol and coffee before bed are known risk factors for teeth clenching and grinding.  

  • Stress Management:

Although the common techniques applied to stress management (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Biofeedback) are effective for stress management, available research does not support their use as a standalone therapy. Experts recommend the use of these techniques alongside other strategies to alleviate the effects of bruxism.

  • Regular Exercise:

Exercise is a known stress management therapy. Exercise may be beneficial for those who suffer bruxism.

  • Behavior Therapy:

Because awake bruxism subconsciously slips into the behavioral framework of sufferers, behavioral modification and habit reversal may be helpful to break its hold. In severe cases, the sufferer may require psychological counseling.

  • Mouth guard:

A mouth guard (or night guard) seem to be the first approach to preventing further dental deterioration and grinding noises.

The night guard has been used as a treatment for relieving strain resulting from strenuous grinding and clenching. It is helpful in inhibiting sore jaw muscles and joints.

However, the mouth guard has no lasting effects on alleviating the frequency of clenching throughout the night. In those with obstructive sleep apnea, the night guard may (in rare occasions), interfere with breathing airways during sleep.

It’s essential to be extra cautious if you decide to use a mouth guard to alleviate the effects of bruxism.

Since the makeup of our teeth does not allow for regular contact, a violation of this can lead to the wearing down of the enamel and since the enamel protects the inner structure of the teeth, an infringement on this framework can spell doom for a person’s dental health.

Wrapping Up

Although a number of treatments for bruxism, such as the ones listed above are in use, the evidence of robust efficacy is negligible for any particular method. A combination of these methods is likely to produce significant results.


About Dr. Saleh

Dr. Saleh is an active author in the beauty & health industry. He is well known for his unprecedented research and advocacy efforts to support safe cosmetic products and healthy way of living.

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