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Grinding/Clenching/Bruxism
Dr. Leyli Valera, DDS - San Jose, CA



Bruxism, or inadvertent teeth grinding, and clenching affects millions of Americans every year. While the cause of grinding and clenching is not clear, if left untreated, it can have serious implications on both oral and overall health.

Dr. Valera is experienced in spotting the signs and symptoms of teeth grinding or clenching in her patients. She’s committed to minimizing the damage done by grinding and clenching while ensuring her patients are as comfortable as possible. If you’re suffering from bruxism or clenching, or if you have questions about the signs of these disorders and how to control them, read our commonly asked questions below and call Crown Family Dentistry for a full consultation.

Common Questions about Grinding/Clenching/Bruxism

What is bruxism or teeth grinding?

Bruxism is the habit of unconsciously grinding or gnashing teeth—typically during sleep or when stressed. Often, these are classified as sleep bruxism (grinding during sleep) and awake bruxism (grinding while stressed or experiencing other emotions when awake).

What’s the difference between teeth grinding and clenching?

Clenching is slightly different from teeth grinding, but they manifest with similar symptoms and require similar treatment. Clenching is characterized as pushing the teeth together, while grinding is characterized as pushing the teeth together and moving laterally—either backward and forward or side to side.

Both habits put harmful pressure and stress on the jaw and teeth, and both should be addressed by a qualified dentist to ensure further damage is not done.

What causes bruxism, or teeth grinding and clenching?

The cause of teeth grinding or clenching is a mystery—some people are born with the habit and others might develop it from outside stressors or conditions. Recent research indicates that bruxism is closely related to airway issues or sleep apnea. So if you’re doing a lot of grinding at night, the cause could be your body trying to create airways for oxygen.

Stress may also be a factor in many teeth grinding or clenching cases. Stress has negative impacts on all aspects of health, and Dr. Valera recommends keeping that in mind if teeth grinding or clenching is becoming a problem. Striving to keep stress levels under control may alleviate signs of grinding. However, patients would do grind while stressed will likely grind—possibly to a lesser extent—at other times.

What are the signs of bruxism, or teeth grinding and clenching?

Patients who have been grinding or clenching for some time will develop a pattern of chipped or worn teeth, such as flatter molars and incisors. While this may not appear until after a few years of grinding or clenching, patients may first experience sore gums, a sore jaw, gum recession, or headaches.

While many patients realize they are grinding or clenching after their spouse or partner reports hearing it at night, the conditions are sometimes silent. Some patients also do not feel the characteristic sore jaw from their grinding or clenching. Even without these common symptoms, it could still be occurring. Because of this, it’s important to maintain regular checkups with your dentist and ensure no signs or symptoms of bruxism or teeth grinding or clenching are present.

Does bruxism cause gum recession?

Yes. If left untreated, bruxism and clenching can cause gum recession and even bone loss. By putting pressure on the teeth and gums, grinding and clenching can cause gum recession which leads to nerve exposure and sensitivity in your teeth. However, not all patients who grind or clench will feel this—it may only be apparent to the dentist examining your teeth during your checkup.

Does bruxism increase my risk of cavities?

Yes. Grinding and clenching will wear down enamel over time, which is the protective layer of teeth. When that is lost, the teeth’s risk of cavities is greatly increased. Dr. Valera recommends using a toothpaste or mouthwash with fluoride, or getting a professional fluoride application in the dentist’s office, as an added layer of protection against cavities if you are habitually grinding or clenching.

Can teeth grinding cause headaches?

Yes, some patients experience headaches as a symptom of teeth grinding or clenching. You may wake up with aches or tightness in your jaw muscles from grinding or clenching throughout the night—the pressure and tension makes these patients three times more likely to suffer from headaches.

As with many of the symptoms of grinding and clenching, this can worsen in the long term, causing dysfunction in the temporomandibular (TMJ) joint, or jaw joint.

Why does bruxism get worse?

Unless caused by a treatable condition such as sleep apnea, teeth grinding and clenching are often lifelong habits. They will likely come and go in certain periods of time, triggered by a wide variety as reasons such as stress or adjustments to your normal habits. If you’re grinding or clenching your teeth, it’s important to see an experienced dentist such as Dr. Valera and ensure all necessary precautions are taken, especially at times when the condition becomes worse.

How is bruxism treated?

If Dr. Valera sees signs of teeth clenching and grinding, she will first ensure it is not caused by sleep apnea. Patients with sleep apnea will often grind or clench their teeth in an unconscious effort to open airways. If she suspects an airway obstruction, Dr. Valera will refer you to a trusted specialist to determine whether or not this is not the cause of the grinding and clenching.

If there are no signs of sleep apnea, Dr. Valera will recommend a customized night guard, which prevents the teeth from hitting each other and gives the jaw muscles a break during the night. While there is no cure for grinding and clenching, Dr. Valera will ensure that you have the tools necessary to minimize damage to the teeth, jaw, and gums and protect your overall oral health.

My child is grinding his/her teeth. How can I help?

Children may grind or clench of their teeth, as well. And often, it’s hard for children to wear a night guard because their teeth are constantly changing—the night guard may affect the development if the child’s teeth or he or she might outgrow it quickly, as they lose or gain teeth.

Often, the child will grow out of bruxism or clenching habits. They will be checked for any airway obstructions, which are often the root cause of the habits. But if there are no airway issues present, the dentist is unable to manage it until all the adult teeth have grown in—then, the child can get a night guard to prevent damage to these new teeth.

I only grind when I’m stressed. Do I have to wear my night guard every night?

Often, patients will wear the night guard only when they’re stressed. While this is okay, Dr. Valera finds that if you grind while you’re stressed, you likely grind while you’re not stressed, too. It may to occurring on a lesser level which is silent or doesn’t trigger the same symptoms. If you experience bruxism or teeth grinding and clenching, Dr. Valera recommends wearing a night guard at all times in order to minimize the damage on your oral health.

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