What is sleep bruxism?

What is sleep bruxism?

Teeth grinding is the gnashing or grinding of the teeth when not chewing or swallowing, as the teeth naturally touch then. Although it may occur both day and night, such grinding normally occurs during sleep. It is also referred to as sleep bruxism.


Teeth grinding has many consequences:

  • premature wear of teeth
  • broken fillings, crowns and dentures
  • headaches
  • orofacial and jaw joint (temporomandibular joint) pain upon waking
  • disruption of family sleep by the strident noise induced by tooth grinding

The exact causes of sleep bruxism are not known. However, daytime anxiety and stress could be triggers. During sleep, fast breathing and heart activity associated with systems that maintain regular sleep may also trigger sleep bruxism.


Sleep Bruxism in figures

  • Sleep bruxism is reported by 8% of the adult population and close to 14% of children have been reported to grind their teeth a few times per week.
  • Sleep bruxism declines with age. In teenagers the prevalence is 12%, declining to 3% in people age 60 or over.


The diagnosis of teeth grinding is based on:

  • a history of hearing tooth grinding by another person
  • the presence of tooth wear/damage
  • increased jaw muscle size
  • orofacial pain and/or headaches upon awakening

Some cases require an evaluation by a sleep specialist if there is severe pain, teeth chattering or difficulty breathing at night.


Sleep bruxism can be treated through relaxation therapy, physiotherapy and wearing an oral splint to prevent tooth damage. An oral splint is a custom-made acrylic device made from a tooth imprint, covering the chewing surface of the teeth. It is worn during the day or at night and prevents contact between the upper and lower teeth.

Enlightened advice

If you suffer from teeth grinding:

  • avoid smoking in the evening
  • avoid excess alcohol consumption
  • avoid sleeping on your back
  • avoid noise in the bedroom

Some over-the-counter or prescription medication can be taken at bedtime to reduce muscle pain and increase relaxation during periods of intense sleep bruxism.

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