Home » Sleep Disorders » Bruxism
August 2020 |  Reviewed by:  Jon Saito, MD and Rafael J. Sepulveda, MD

What is bruxism?

Grinding or clenching teeth during sleep is known as sleep-related bruxism. It is common for your jaw to contract while you sleep. When these contractions are too strong, they produce the sound of tooth grinding. This can cause dental damage by wearing your teeth down. In the most severe cases, hundreds of events can occur during the night. In milder cases, the grinding may vary from night to night.

Severe bruxism may briefly disturb your sleep. Only at rare times will it cause you to fully wake up. Loud sounds caused by the grinding of teeth can be very unpleasant. This can also disturb the sleep of a bed partner. It can occur during all stages of sleep. It is most common in stages one and two of non-REM sleep.

The cause of sleep-related bruxism is unclear but has been associated with stress, genetics, medications, and sleep-disordered breathing.

What are symptoms of bruxism?

The following are signs of bruxism:

  • Tooth pain
  • Jaw muscle pain
  • Mouth and facial pain
  • Limited jaw movement
  • Damaged or worn teeth
  • Sore gums
  • Headaches

You may not know that you have it unless a family member or bed partner hears the noise. The rate of bruxism seems to be highest in children. About 14% to 17% of children have it. It can begin as soon as a child’s upper and lower teeth have come through the gums. Around one-third of children with bruxism will still have it when they are adults. About 8% of young to middle-aged adults have it. The rate continues to decrease with age.

Some people may have it every night for most of their lives. Dentures that are often used in the elderly may dampen the sound of grinding. This can keep the bruxism from being detected. It seems to affect men and women at the same rate. It tends to occur in families. From 20% to 50% of people with bruxism have at least one family member with a history of grinding his or her teeth.