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How to Tell if You Grind Your Teeth at Night (and What to Do About It)

8 min read
by Dylan Hao |

Is that early morning headache making you cranky for the rest of the day? Do you grimace at the thought of brushing and flossing because you know your teeth will hurt? Does chewing or smiling make your jaw sore?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you might be a bruxer.

Bruxism is a condition characterized by unconscious teeth grinding and jaw clenching. It can happen when you’re awake, but it’s most common — and dangerous — while you’re asleep and don’t not ice.

But if you’re sleeping, how can you tell that you’re grinding your teeth?

Short of waiting until the damage is too far gone to be ignored, there are a few warning signs. Watch for these common bruxing symptoms, and you may be able to catch the problem early enough and fix it with a few simple solutions!

How to Tell if You Grind Your Teeth at Night

By definition, sleep bruxism is a sleep-related movement disorder. When you brux, you unconsciously clench your jaw and grind your teeth. But because you’re asleep, you can’t stop yourself from engaging in these actions. 

If your bruxing is mild, you may never know you were doing it before the behaviors stop completely. However, ongoing clenching and grinding can damage your teeth, gums, facial muscles, and all the interconnected systems in your body. Crossing from occasional, mild bruxism into chronic and moderate levels leads to some easily recognizable symptoms.

Symptoms of Teeth Grinding

Are you grinding your teeth in your sleep? The fact that you’re reading this article means you have reason to suspect your jaw muscles aren’t resting at night as they’re supposed to. If that’s the case, the consequences can be dangerous.

The good news is that there are some clear telltale signs of bruxing.

While everyone is different, most bruxers display symptoms of teeth grinding, such as:

  • Sore/tight jaw and facial muscles
  • Flattened chewing and biting surfaces
  • Damage to tooth enamel (cracks and chips)
  • Loose teeth
  • Discomfort or earaches
  • Headaches/temple soreness
  • TMJ pain
  • Jaw clicking and popping

Note that you might not have all of these issues, and some overlap with other conditions. If your symptoms persist for longer than a couple of weeks, it’s best to talk to your doctor or dentist to get an official diagnosis.

Risk Factors for Bruxism

While many of these symptoms can stem from other causes, if you have multiple signs, bruxism is likely the culprit.

Another way to narrow down the diagnosis is to check for any of the common risk factors for this condition:


Although researchers aren’t positive about why, they do know there is a significant link between stress and anxiety and bruxing. If you’re stressed, you have a 97% greater chance of bruxing than those calmer than you.

This could be related to the release of too much adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones that keep your muscles on high alert.

These hormones are released through activity. If you don’t get rid of them before you sleep, your brain tries to do it for you by grinding.

Abnormal Bite

Abnormal bites, called malocclusion, can cause teeth crowding and other dental issues, leading to bruxism. On the other hand, bruxism can cause teeth to shift, leading to these misalignments.

The relationship between these two conditions is complex, but if you know you have less than perfectly straight teeth affecting your bite, talk to your dentist about possible treatments.

Personality Types: Aggressive or Competitive

Consider one of the stereotypically aggressive comic book characters, the Hulk. He’s known for getting angry and clenching his teeth while throwing things around.

Does your personality align with his, or do you handle your stress calmly? Are you a Type A personality who has to have everything just so? Does competition spur you to success? 

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you might be a bruxer. Studies show that “compulsive, controlling, and aggressive persons” are more likely to develop this condition than those without these personality traits.

Certain Medical Disorders

Certain medical conditions are intricately tied to bruxism. If you’re diagnosed with any of these medical issues, you have a strong chance of developing teeth grinding and jaw clenching as a secondary diagnosis:

  • Parkinson’s Disease - In studies, patients with Parkinson’s Disease report higher rates of bruxism than those in control groups.
  • Epilepsy - Epilepsy is characterized by seizures that often cause teeth grinding. Because of this symptom, patients with epilepsy may have bruxism as a secondary health condition.
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder (GERD) - GERD is a condition in which the contents of the stomach move up into the esophagus. When that happens, the patient has frequent heartburn and acid indigestion. The pain causes the person to clench their jaw, leading to secondary bruxism.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) - Those with ADHD tend to have higher levels of anxiety and stress, which we already know is linked to bruxism. However, many medications that are used to treat ADHD can cause jaw clenching and teeth grinding.
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) - OSA is a sleep disorder in which the patient experiences repeated apneas (pauses in breathing). These pauses make the jaw muscles more active, leading to teeth grinding.
  • Certain medications - If you’re taking antidepressants, ADHD medication, or anti-seizure medicine, you may be at risk for bruxism as a side effect. Talk to your doctor about your healthcare options to prevent bruxing damage.
  • Illicit drug use - Illicit drugs, particularly stimulants, cause the muscles to stay on alert for long periods. This creates hyperactivity in the body, including the jaw and facial muscles. Since these drugs often weaken the teeth enamel, this type of bruxism can result in severely damaged, cracked, and broken teeth.
  • Genetics - If there’s a family history of bruxing in your ancestry, it’s more likely that you’ll develop the condition.

  • If any of these risk factors sound familiar, and you have some of the symptoms of bruxing, chances are, you’ve nailed your diagnosis.

    What’s next?

    The key is to understand why something that sounds as innocent as “teeth grinding” should be treated seriously. We’ll explain the dangers of grinding next.

    Why Grinding Your Teeth at Night Is a Problem

    Take a few seconds to clench your jaw and grind your teeth gently. Can you feel the sensation of enamel against enamel? 

    When you’re asleep, you have less control over your body. That gentle grinding disappears, and you create up to 250 psi (pounds per square inch) of bite force. You probably didn’t realize your jaw muscles were so strong, but they are!

    Teeth and Gum Damage

    You’re likely starting to see why chronic bruxism (grinding away for hours at a time every night) can be so dangerous. Not only does it damage the enamel and gums, but uncontrolled grinding can also destroy your expensive cosmetic dentistry fixes and dental restorations (sealants/fillings, crowns, implants, etc.). 

    Muscle Tightness and Discomfort

    Beyond dental health, that incessant tightening of the jaw muscles is painful! 

    Since your jaw muscles are connected to the facial muscles, which are interconnected with the neck and shoulders, long-term grinding pulls on all of these tissues. Because of this tightness, it’s not uncommon for bruxers to have chronic morning tension headaches and migraines.

    Jaw Joint Dislocation

    Struggling to open and close your mouth without pain? That’s your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) calling for help.

    The TMJ is the delicate body part that controls jaw movement. Like a hinge, it’s connected to your jaw via your skull and must sit perfectly in its little slot.

    When your jaw muscles swell — or you clench and grind too much — the TMJ joint can get pushed out of its position or become dislocated, leading to one of many painful TMJ disorders.

    How to Stop Grinding Your Teeth at Night

    Now that you’ve gotten a quick summary of how to know if you’re grinding and why you shouldn’t ignore it if you are, you’re probably ready to take steps to solve the problem. The sooner you get a handle on your bruxism, the quicker you can prevent further damage!

    But the solution you need depends on the cause of teeth grinding. To stop the bruxing behaviors, you must treat the reason behind it. If you’re not sure why you’re bruxing or if the cause of your bruxism is medical, such as a medication or health issues, talk to your doctor to determine a treatment plan.

    It’s also possible that your grinding has caused cavities, tooth fractures, or gum disease. These require dental care before you do anything else to try to stop your bruxing. Visit your dentist for regular checkups as the best form of tooth and gum damage prevention.

    Stress-Induced Grinding Solutions

    Although there are many reasons you could be clenching and grinding, one of the most common causes of bruxism is stress. Reducing your stress levels might be the most efficient way to stop bruxing.

    Of course, sometimes the biggest stresses in our lives are things out of our control. In that case, adapting some stress management techniques can still help you relax enough to get sound sleep without grinding.

    Try these science-backed, expert-recommended stress relief techniques to see if they positively impact your bruxing:

    • Journaling before bedtime
    • Meditation or yoga
    • Exercise or other movement activities 
    • Spending time in nature

    The more you spend time doing things you enjoy, the easier it is for your body to handle the internal and external stress it faces each day. Do something fun, sit in quiet stillness, and have a good belly laugh before bed. You may notice your bruxism symptoms decrease!

    Why Night Guards Are the First Line of Defense For Bruxism

    But if you don’t want to wait until you’ve gotten to the root of your bruxing before you start preventing more damage, that’s understandable, too. That’s why most people use a night guard as soon as they think they might be grinding and clenching.

    A high-quality night guard, like those we offer at JS Dental Lab, prevents the upper and lower teeth from touching. Since they can’t get contact, they don’t grind. Without that grinding motion, your jaw muscles have nothing to do, so they are forced to take that much-needed break while you sleep.

    Choosing the Right Night Guard

    There are many types of night guards, including those you can buy over the counter and online as a one-size-fits-all or boil-and-bite. These kinds of cheaper oral appliances are usually easy to bite through when you’re grinding. They can even cause your teeth to shift because of their improper fit. 

    On the other extreme are the professional-grade, high-quality night guards available from your dentist. Because these are made from an impression of your mouth, they have the perfect fit to comfortably cover your teeth’s nooks and crannies.

    The strong, safe materials are durable enough to withstand moderate and severe grinding. However, the downside to these night guards is the hefty price tag that comes with office visits, fittings, and lab fees.

    An in-between solution is our JS Dental Lab mail-order professional night guards. You get the high-quality results of a dentist’s office impression and materials from the comfort of home. 

    How It Works

    (Please note: If your bruxing is due to OSA or TMJ disorders, skip the night guard until you talk to your doctor. Specific mouth guards or splints are designed to help these particular conditions.)


    With all this information at your disposal, you can determine whether or not you’re a grinder. If you are, you’re on the right track to fix the problem! 

    The first line of protection is a night guard from JS Dental Lab. Grab one today to prevent jaw pain and further damage to your oral health while you’re working on solving the cause of your bruxism permanently.

    Shop our night guards here!

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