While many people know they dream at night, they may not realize that they also grind their teeth as they sleep. Known technically as bruxism, this grinding of teeth, often accompanied by jaw clenching, can actually harm your oral health if left undetected and untreated.
Bruxism can develop for a number of reasons, including stress, aging, medical disorders, and dental issues such as an abnormal bite or crooked teeth. The good news is that it’s treatable, and your dentist can help you manage it while also addressing underlying dental issues.
7 Signs That You Grind Your Teeth at Night
Perhaps your partner notices your teeth grinding habit and tells you about it the next morning. If not, there are signs you can be on the lookout for, alerting you that this may indeed be occurring as you sleep.
If you’re wondering if you might be grinding your teeth at night, here are 7 signs that potentially point to yes.
1. Headaches Upon Awakening
Awakening with a dull, throbbing headache can be a telling sign that you are grinding your teeth and clenching your jaw at night.
These headaches often concentrate in the temple area and can feel like a dull earache as well, even though there is nothing wrong with your ear.
You may notice that the headache actually dissipates soon after waking, usually within a half-hour or so.
2. Facial or Neck Pain
If you wake up with odd pains in your face or neck with no apparent explainable cause, bruxism may be to blame. Such pains may be the result of a constant movement in muscles of the face or neck as you grind your teeth and clench your jaw.
3. Sudden Earaches
If you suddenly begin to develop earaches and feel them upon awakening, consider whether or not there is a cause, such as swimmer’s ear. If not, notice if any other symptoms on this list are occurring at the same time, alerting you that you might be grinding your teeth in your sleep.
Also, this ache in your ear may radiate into your mouth, making you wonder if you are also experiencing a toothache on that side of the face as well.
4. Soreness, Tightness, or a Clicking Sound in the TMJ and Jaw Muscles
Do you ever wake up experiencing a sore or stiff jaw? Does your jaw click at times when you yawn or open your mouth wide to eat? If so, bruxism may be to blame.
Your TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint) and surrounding muscles work together to allow you to open and close your mouth and also to shift your jaw in a side-to-side motion. If you clench your jaw during the night, along with teeth grinding, this repetitive force can create irritation in the TMJ. As a result, you may experience pain, soreness, tightness, or clicking in this area.
5. On-going Sleep Disruptions
If sleep disruptions become more and more common, these can be a clue that you are experiencing bruxism at night. The noise you make while grinding your teeth may wake you several times. Pain in the jaw, ears, or neck can wake you as well.
Interrupted sleep can leave you feeling tired throughout the day and also cause you to become distracted and experience trouble concentrating.
While sleep disruptions can be a sign of other medical or stress-related issues, take a look at what other signs on this list fit with your situation to determine if bruxism is a potential cause.
6. Damage to Teeth
One of the most noticeable signs of bruxism is the different damages it can cause to your teeth. Stay on the lookout for the following dental-related signs of bruxism.
Chipped, cracked, or fractured teeth
Flattened teeth, indicating excessive wear and potential exposure of deeper tooth layers
Heightened tooth sensitivity (to hot or cold items)
Unexplainable tooth pain
If you notice any of these signs, make an appointment with your dentist right away. Your dentist will know what to look for and what to ask to determine if bruxism is occurring, then will help you find the right solution.
7. Soreness or Damage in Lip or Inner Cheek Tissues
The action of grinding your teeth as you sleep may extend to chewing the inner parts of your lips and cheeks. If you notice these areas are sore, tender, or sensitive, or contain new sores that fail to heal quickly, suspect bruxism. A jagged or chipped tooth may be scraping against these mouth tissues as you grind your teeth at night.
What To Do About Grinding Your Teeth at Night
Whether you are grinding your teeth due to stress and anxiety, existing dental issues, or another cause, there are things you can do to help.
Schedule a Dental Exam
Start by noting which signs above are most prevalent. Next, contact your dentist to schedule a consultation and exam to see if bruxism is indeed the cause and, if so, to go over your options for managing it.
During the dental exam, your dentist will know what to look for, including loose, cracked, or chipped teeth, or the excessive wearing down of tooth surface, exposing deeper layers.
In addition to attending to any dental issues found, your dentist may recommend you wear a night guard when you sleep. This device can help slow or lessen the grinding and protect both your upper and lower teeth. Other oral devices may also be recommended depending upon your particular needs.
Your dentist will also consider whether you suffer from sleep apnea or excessive snoring, which can also lead to you grinding your teeth at night. If found, a personalized treatment plan can be designed to help manage that sleep apnea or snoring and alleviate or manage the bruxism.
Make Lifestyle Changes
In addition to treating dental issues that arise as a result of grinding your teeth, you may also want to consider making some lifestyle changes.
If you suffer high levels of stress or anxiety, try incorporating relaxation techniques into your daily routine, such as yoga or meditation. You may also want to meet with your boss and see if your workload can be re-evaluated or consider other ways to manage your schedule.
As for your diet, try cutting back on food and beverages that contain caffeine, or avoid them altogether. These include coffee, tea, soft drinks, sports drinks, and chocolate. Also, limit or avoid alcohol consumption, which has a tendency to increase the intensity of teeth grinding and jaw clenching as you sleep.
If you notice any of the signs of bruxism and suspect you might be grinding your teeth at night, contact Lifetime Dental Health to schedule an appointment with Dr. Richard Barry and his team. Dr. Barry will take the time to evaluate your oral health with a thorough dental exam and ask all the right questions. Call today.
Pain is a protective mechanism that signals a health issue to your body, whether that health issue be minor and resolvable, or more worrisome. Jaw pain can happen to anyone as a result of jaw bone pain, muscle injury, nerve damage, clenched teeth, trauma, or even other bodily systemic factors.
First, it is important to understand the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Yes, that is a mouthful!
The TMJ is a joint that combines the maxilla (upper jaw bone, right above your top row of teeth and below your nose) and the mandible (lower jaw bone, more commonly referred to as the jaw). If you have jaw pain, you might have a TMJ disorder.
Sometimes, jaw pain can be referred to as temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder (TMD)which includes jaw pain related to jaw muscle injury or pain.
Common risk factors of a TMJ disorder include:
Trauma or injury to the jaw
Genetics or family history of TMJ
Arthritis or Connective tissue disease
Bruxism (gnashing one’s teeth at night)
It’s important if you’re experiencing jaw pain to monitor when and how often they have symptoms of jaw pain. By tracking your own symptoms, you can provide important details to our dental team or healthcare provider. This can lead to accurate and pain-relieving treatment for TMJ, TMD, or other jaw pain.
Symptoms of Jaw Pain
Jaw pain might present as mild, moderate, or severe. Everyone has different thresholds for pain, however, it’s important to always remember that pain is a signal to your body that something is wrong. Seeking out medical advice for jaw pain can help you locate the origin of such pain and hopefully resolve symptoms.
Below are some symptoms that a person with TMJ, TMD, or jaw pain might experience. These symptoms are listed to help you identify possible manifestations of this issue at home. If you believe you have any of these symptoms, please contact our team and set up an appointment.
Pain or tenderness of the jaw
“Locking” or popping of the jaw
Clicking or grinding sounds when moving one’s jaw
Jaw pain when chewing
Jaw pain upon waking up, after possible teeth-gnashing in one’s sleep
Aches around face, ears, neck, or jaw
Toothache or tooth pain
Tooth burning or sensitivity
Causes of Jaw Pain
There are common and rare causes of jaw pain that can be assessed and treated by your dental team.
Trauma, or injury, is one of the most common reasons for jaw pain. Someone who has experienced trauma to the face, possibly during an athletic activity, could have a face or jaw fracture and should get a facial x-ray. Another injury, a strain, might occur if a person is holding their jaw or neck in an abnormal position for too long. This should be a self-resolving injury, but that person should still seek out an x-ray to distinguish fracture versus strain. Finally, a person might dislocate their jaw, by opening their mouth too wide.
Arthritis or connective tissue disease, which includes abnormalities of jaw cartilage tissue or bone, can also be a possible cause of jaw pain. For example, if a disc in the jaw that typically protects and cushions movement is broken down due to arthritis or displaced, then you can experience jaw pain.
Tooth infections can also lead to jaw pain because the pain in one’s teeth can radiate to the jaw. Tooth nerves are very sensitive and can lead to burning or sharp pain! Dry sockets from surgery or cracked teeth can also lead to pain. All of these conditions can be assessed at your local dentist.
Teeth grinding, or bruxism, is a common habit that does not always lead to jaw pain. However, if someone feels like their jaw often involuntarily locks, or they have jaw pain in the morning when waking up, they might be grinding their teeth in their sleep. This can lead to jaw pain.
In less common cases, some people might have jaw pain that is secondary to other infections or bodily changes and not associated with TMJ disorder, such as:
Nerve pain, referred to as trigeminal neuralgia
Coronary artery disease
These other bodily changes often present with specific signs. For example, someone with coronary artery disease will feel chest pain that radiates to the jaw. In this instance, it is recommended that this person seeks out emergent medical treatment. If a woman is pregnant, her hormones might cause bone weakness, thus leading to jaw pain. If a person often experiences cluster headaches or suspects nerve trauma after ruling out other causes of jaw pain, that person can consult with a neurologist.
What If I Have Jaw Pain?
The first step to take if you have jaw pain is to pay close attention to your symptoms and report them to a trusted healthcare provider. At Lifetime Dental Health in Columbus, OH, our dental team will perform x-rays and jaw examinations for patients. These thorough examinations can help identify the origin of jaw pain and possible TMJ or TMD.
From there, if there is no connection between the jaw pain and the mouth/teeth, patients might be referred onward to neurologists or other specialized care to solve the mystery.
There aremany recommend treatments for jaw pain, including at-home treatments:
Reduce jaw movement. Try to avoid stress to reduce jaw-clenching.
Eat mostly soft foods. Avoid chewy or tough foods, like gum, gummies, beef jerky, apples, caramel, and tough meat. Avoid foods that are extremely hot or cold, which might trigger sensitivities or pain.
Apply ice packs or a warm moist towel to the jaw, intermittently. If applying an ice pack, place it in a plastic bag and wrap it in a towel to avoid ice burns. Leave it on for 10 minutes, or only as long as it is comfortable, and then remove for 10 minutes, and repeat as needed. For applying a warm moist towel, ensure the water is not too hot that it will burn your skin. The warm water might relax jaw spasms.
Gently massage your painful jaw. Using two fingers to press your jaw in a circular motion. Practice gently stretching your jaw, but do not stretch your jaw if it hurts.
Take over-the-counter acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief.
Our dental team might also recommend or prescribe a mouth guard, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory or steroid medications, or antibiotics as needed. In some cases, a person with jaw pain might benefit from tooth extraction, root canal therapy, Botox injections, or jaw surgery. These procedures tend to be rare and only done when a person is properly diagnosed first.
Prolonged, or constant, jaw pain is unlikely to resolve on its own. If pain persists or becomes severe, it is important to contact your dental team and have them assess your jaw and teeth. Immediately seek medical attention if you have shortness of breath or are unable to swallow or if chest pain accompanies your jaw pain.
If you have jaw pain that you would like to have assessed, contact us here at Lifetime Dental Health.