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What Is Teeth Grinding?

The formal name for teeth grinding is bruxism. This strange word was coined back in early 1900's by Marie Pietkiewicz who referred to compulsive grinding of teeth as ‘la bruxomanie.’ Later, the term “bruxism” was adopted to describe the unconscious grinding of teeth. Bruxism belongs to the category of behaviors that are called “parafunctional”, like tooth tapping, biting cheeks and lips, biting fingernails, and tongue thrusting. 


There are two forms of teeth grinding: sleep bruxism and wake-time bruxism. Although the two forms are not mutually exclusive, they are two distinct disorders. But today we are going to focus on sleep bruxism, and this one is harder to identify and control.


Watch this video to learn about bruxism and see how it can affect your teeth.

What Is Sleep Bruxism?

Sleep bruxism is a rhythmic, repetitive, and involuntary activity of the muscles of the jaw, which happen during sleep. Bruxism creates forceful contact between the biting surfaces of the upper and lower teeth and often can produce some unpleasant sounds (you can listen to the sound here). There is also clenching, which is sustained and forceful tooth contact without any sideways jaw movements. On average, people who grind their teeth do so at least two to four times per hour of sleep. When grinding reaches this level of frequency, it gets diagnosed as a sleep disorder. Surprisingly, 60% of the population exhibits a mild chewing-like activity during sleep, but it's not classified as sleep bruxism—it’s actually a psychological sleep related movement. 

Every dentist knows, that bruxism is a nightmare to deal with, because any beautiful restorative work can be rapidly destroyed by teeth grinding. In most cases, sleep bruxism is “just” teeth grinding during sleep.However, it's worth to note, that it can be a symptom of other disorders, which require further diagnosis and treatment. To name some of these: obstructive sleep apnea, gastroesophageal reflux, restless leg syndrome, REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), sleep-related epilepsy, autism, and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD).

Why We Grind Our Teeth

To this day, doctors can not pinpoint the direct cause of sleep bruxism. It is very likely, that psychological factors play an important role, but these findings are inconclusive. Some doctors believe, that people who grind their teeth tend to be more sensitive to stress and anxiety.

One thing we know so far, is that bruxism is centrally regulated, meaning that it’s a sleep disturbance that originates in the central nervous system, and it’s not triggered or controlled by peripheral factors in the mouth, like a blockage of some sort, or tooth contacts. We also know it’s not caused by an infectious disease, which is what people used to think, nor is it a tic or reaction triggered by improperly fixed dental prostheses. 

Sleep bruxism occurs in almost 10% of general population. Children and adolescents seem to be affected more often (up to 40% of 11 year-olds experience teeth grinding). Elderly population seems to be less affected, down to 3% but this statistics is not conclusive, because elders might be missing teeth or have no partners to report tooth grinding sound. Symptoms related to bruxism can vary over time, for example, a person can grind their teeth with higher frequency in some periods of life, and grind less in others.

Sleep bruxism occurs in almost 10% of general population. Children and adolescents seem to be affected more often (up to 40% of 11 year-olds experience teeth grinding).

What Are The Signs Of Teeth Grinding Or Sleep Bruxism? 

The signs and symptoms of teeth grinding are not always obvious.


Abnormal teeth wear, sore jaw muscles, morning headaches, overtrained jaw muscles all point to sleep bruxism. Bruxism can also lead to TMJ syndrome, damage in temporomandibular joints, which causes pain when opening/closing the mouth or chewing.

(On this image you can see severe teeth wear as a result of untreated sleep bruxism)

The signs don't stop here. Some other indications are: neck pain, earache, hearing loss, ringing in the ears, inflammation of some salivary glands, periodical swelling and inflammation, and lastly, abnormal dryness of the mouth.

Not all of these symptoms are always present or even noticeable. Some people can be perfectly asymptomatic despite their intense grinding activity during sleep.

A common misconception is that the degree of teeth wear is directly related to the intensity/frequency of tooth grinding. But teeth wear is dependent on quality of enamel, saliva, acid intake, and the presence of gastro-esophageal reflux.

What To Do If You Think You Are Grinding Teeth At Night?

You might be one of the people, who keeps handing over thousands of dollars to the dentists, not knowing why your teeth keep cracking and fillings disintergrate so often. If your dentist told you that you might be grinding your teeth at night, he or she might be on to something. It's hard to catch, because many people don't exhibit the obvious symptoms, like having sore jaw in the morning, headaches. In fact, most people exhibit symptoms that are more subtle, but no less problematic to their long term wellbeing. 


The next logical step should be to get fitted for a night guard or a mouth guard. To most people, the thought of wearing a piece of acrylic in their mouth while sleeping is quite off-putting. That's why we recommend getting a custom night guard from your dentist, because custom night guards are better fitted, more durable and more comfortable. Severe grinding can really damage teeth in the long term, result in tooth loss and affect your jaws, it can cause or worsen TMJ disorder and even alter the appearance of your facial structure.

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Dentist for Bruxism in Chicago

If you suspect that you might grind your teeth at night, talk to us. Our bruxism dentist in Chicago will check your for wear and examine your temporomandibular joints and jaw muscles for signs of bruxism. If you are looking for a dentist near 60632, 60639 or 60629 Archer Dental is at your service.

Unfortunately, there is no one simple cure to stop someone from grinding. There are, however, some treatment options to reduce the side effects of bruxism and save your teeth in the long run. Because if bruxism is left untreated, it can result in a number of problems. First of all, if teeth are suffering and wearing out, grinding can destroy enamel, crowns, fillings and prostheses. Over time, teeth may loosen. Jaw pain can become chronic and more difficult to manage over time.

Dental Glossary

Bruxism is a condition in which person grinds their teeth or clenches jaws. Symptoms commonly associated with bruxism are: hypersensitive teeth, aching jaw muscles, headaches, tooth wear. 


Malocclusion is a medical term for poor teeth alignment and bite. Malocclusion can lead to serious oral health complications.

Sleep Disorder

Sleep disorder is an umbrella term for changes in sleeping patterns that can affect health negatively. Bruxism is third most common form of sleep disorder right after sleeptalking and snoring.

Dentin Hypersensitivity

Dentin hypersensitivity is a pain response to a various stimuli (touch, temperature, pressure). It occurs when dentin is exposed or tooth enamel is worn down. 

Occlusal Splint

Occlusal splint is a specially designed mouth guard prescribed for people who have bruxism or problems with temporomandibular joint. 

Temporomandibular Joint

Preventive dentistry focuses on maintaining oral health in order to prevent the spread tooth decay and infections in the mouth.

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