Bruxism / Tooth Grinding
Bruxism (from the Greek βρυγμός "gnashing of teeth") is characterized by the grinding of the teeth and is
typically accompanied by the clenching of the jaw.

It is an
oral para-functional activity that occurs in most humans at some time in their lives.

In most people,
bruxism is mild enough not to be a health problem.  While bruxism may be a diurnal (during
the day) or
nocturnal (during the night) activity, it is bruxism during sleep that causes the majority of health
issues and can even occur during short naps.

Bruxism is one of the most common sleep disorders.
Photo of Bruxism-related Tooth Damage

Bruxism is more accurately classified as a habit.

bruxism activity is rhythmic (like chewing) though some activity is sustained (clenching).  Researchers classify
bruxism as "a habitual behaviour and a sleep disorder".

bruxists are not aware of their bruxism and only 5% go on to develop symptoms, such as jaw pain and
headaches, which will require treatment.  In many cases, a sleeping partner / parent will notice the
bruxism before
the person experiencing the problem becomes aware of it.

Bruxism can result in abnormal wear patterns of the biting surfaces of the teeth, abfractions  and fractures in the
teeth.  This type of damage is categorised as a sign of
occlusal trauma.

Over time, dental damage will usually occur.  
Bruxism is the leading cause of occlusal trauma and a significant cause
of tooth loss and gum recession.

In a typical case, the canines and incisors of the opposing jaws are moved against each other laterally, i.e. with a
side-to-side action, by the chewing muscles that lie on the inside of the jaw joints (
medial pterygoid muscles). This
movement abrades tooth structure and can lead to the wearing down of the biting (
incisal) edges of the teeth.  
People with
bruxism may also grind their back (posterior) teeth, which will wear down the cusps of the biting surface
of the teeth.

Bruxism can be loud enough to wake a sleeping partner.  Some individuals will clench the jaw without significant
lateral movements.  Teeth hollowed by previous decay (
caries) or dental drilling, may collapse, as the cyclic pressure
exerted by
bruxism is extremely taxing on the tooth structure.

Patients may present with a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Anxiety, stress and tension
  • Depression
  • Earache
  • Eating disorders
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Sore / painful jaw

Associated Factors

The following factors are associated with bruxism:

  • High levels of anxiety, stress, work-related stress, irregular work shifts, stressful profession and ineffective
    coping strategies
  • Relatively high levels of consumption of caffeinated drinks and foods, such as coffee, colas, and chocolate
  • High levels of blood alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Disturbed sleep patterns and other sleep disorders (obstructive sleep apnea, hypopnea, snoring, moderate
    daytime sleepiness)
  • Malocclusion, in which the upper and lower teeth occlude in a disharmonic way, e.g., through premature contact
    of back teeth
  • Drug use, such as the newer antidepressants (SSRI’s) and stimulants (such as ecstasy, MDA and
  • Hypersensitivity of the dopamine receptors in the brain
  • GHB and similar drugs when taken with high frequency
  • Disorders such as Huntington's and Parkinson's diseases
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder


Bruxism may be reduced or even eliminated when the associated factors, e.g., sleep disorders, are treated

Although there is no single accepted cure for
bruxism, there are a number of treatments available.

  • Mouthguards & Splints
  • Habit Breakers
  • Nociceptive Trigeminal Inhibitor
  • Biofeedback
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
  • Botox
  • Dietary Supplements

Mouthguards & Splints

Ongoing management of bruxism is based on minimising the abrasion of tooth surfaces by the wearing of an acrylic /
soft plastic dental guard or splint (
Bite Raising Appliances, BRA’s), designed to the shape of an individual's upper or
lower teeth.  These are made by dentists.

BRA’s are thought to work in the following ways:

  • constraining bruxism so that damage to the TMJ joints is prevented
  • stabilisation of the occlusion by minimising the gradual changes to the positions of the teeth that typically occur
    with bruxism
  • prevention of tooth damage and
  • assist a dentist to judge - in broad terms - the extent and patterns of bruxism through examination of the
    physical indentations on the surface of the splint.

BRA is typically worn on a long-term basis every night.

BRA’s are a first response to bruxism, they do not in fact help cure it.  Professional treatment is
recommended to ensure proper fit, make ongoing adjustments as needed and check that the
occlusion (bite) has
remained stable.  Monitoring of the
BRA is suggested at each dental visit.

Another type of device sometimes given to a
bruxist is a repositioning splint.

repositioning splint may look similar to a traditional BRA but is designed to change the bite (occlusion) of the
patient.  Scientific studies of these devices generally showed no benefit over more conservative therapies.

Useful Articles:

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007.  Occlusal splints for treating sleep bruxism (tooth grinding).

Medscape Medical News

Dental Update 2018.  Occlusal Splints for Bruxing and TMD – A Balanced Approach
Habit Breakers

This is a development of a BRA's.  These are worn mainly at night.  When the patient clenches, the metal
'projections' impinge on the roof of the mouth.  This would wake or disturb the sleep of the clencher and would
theorectically break the habit (eventually).
Photos of Mouth Guards / Splints / BRA's
Nociceptive Trigeminal Inhibitor Device / Appliance

The NTI appliance fits on top of the teeth and alters the angle at which the jaw opens, by covering only the front teeth
and preventing the molars from coming into contact with each other, thus limiting the contraction of the
muscle.  When the grinding starts in the night, the pressure which is applied to the incisors can, it is claimed, send an
alarm signal to the brain.

NTI device must be fitted by a dentist.

The efficacy of such devices is debated.  Some writers propose that irreversible complications can result from the
long-term use of mouthguards and repositioning splints.

Useful Articles:

Evidence Based Dentistry 2009.  The NTI-tss device may be used successfully in the management of bruxism & TMD

Bio Med Central Oral Health 2008.  The NTI-tss device for the therapy of bruxism, temporomandibular disorders and
headache – Where do we stand. A qualitative systematic review of the literature.

Useful Websites:


Nociceptive Trigeminal Inhibition-Tension Suppresion System

Nociceptive Trigeminal Inhibition Tension Suppression System - How Does It Work
Nociceptive Trigeminal Inhibitor-Tension Suppression System Appliance (NTI-tss) Appliance
Nociceptive Trigeminal Inhibitor-Tension Suppression System Appliance (NTI-tss) Appliance being worn

Various bio-feedback devices are currently available and effectiveness varies significantly depending on whether the
bio-feedback is used only during waking hours or during sleep as well.

Many authorities remain unconvinced of the efficacy of 'daytime-only'

The efficacy of
bio-feedback delivered during sleep can depend strongly on daytime training, which is used to
establish a
Pavlovian response to the bio-feedback signal that persists during sleep.

Useful Websites:

GrindAlert by BruxCare



Taste Bio-Feedback

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) aims to help the patient to manage their problems by changing how they think
and act.

CBT encourages the patient to talk about:

  • how they think about themselves, the world and other people
  • how what the patient does affects their thoughts and feelings

By talking about these things,
CBT can help the patient to change how the patient thinks (‘cognitive’) and what the
patient does (‘
behaviour’), which can help the patient feel better about life.

Useful Websites:


Royal College of Psychiatrists

NHS Choices

Patient UK


Botulinum toxin (Botox) can be successful in lessening effects of bruxism.

Bruxism can also be regarded as a disorder of repetitive, unconscious contraction of the masseter muscle (the large
muscle that moves the jaw).  In the treatment of
bruxism, Botox works to weaken the muscle enough to reduce the
effects of grinding and clenching but not so much as to prevent proper use of the muscle.  Injections must be
repeated more than once per year.

The symptoms that can be helped by this procedure include:

  • Grinding and clenching
  • Morning jaw soreness
  • TMJ pain
  • Muscle tension throughout the day
  • Migraines triggered by clenching
  • Neck pain and stiffness triggered by clenching

The effects last for about three months.  The muscles wither (
atrophy), however, so after a few rounds of treatment,
it is usually possible either to decrease the dose or increase the interval between treatments.

Other authorities caution that
Botox should only be used for temporary relief for severe cases and should be followed
by diagnosis and treatment to prevent future
bruxism or jaw clenching, suggesting that prolonged use of Botox can
lead to permanent damage to the jaw muscle.

Useful Website:

The Daily Mail, March 2009 - How to stop teeth-grinding ... with a little help from Botox

Dietary Supplements

There is anecdotal evidence that suggests taking certain combinations of dietary supplements may alleviate bruxism;
pantothenic acid, magnesium and calcium are mentioned on dietary supplement websites.

Calcium is known to be a treatment for gastric problems, and gastric problems such as acid reflux are known to
bruxism.  Placing whole cloves at night inside the mouth is suggested to have an effect on the jaw's muscle
by relaxing it, yet evidence of this remains largely anecdotal without future research.

Useful Articles:

American Dental Association 2005.  Do You Grind Your Teeth?

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008.  Occlusal splints for treating sleep bruxism (tooth grinding)

Vital Summer 2011.  Raising awareness of bruxism

American Academy of Oral Medicine 2008.  Patient Information Sheet.  Tooth Clenching or Grinding

Useful Websites:



The Bruxism Association

Bruxism (Teeth Clenching or Grinding) Advice, Links, Resources


BBC News - Why are we grinding our teeth so much?

BBC Case Notes – The Jaw (also covers bruxism)


Bruxism Ireland

The Times, March 2009 - Q&A: How to deal with grinding teeth.

Teeth Grinding Forum

NHS Choices - Teeth Grinding (Grinding)
Photos of Habit Breakers (my thanks to Derek Lucas for these photos)
Last Updated 1st November 2019