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Bruxism is the medical term for the habit of grinding and clenching your teeth.

Most people will do this from time to time, which does not usually cause any harm, but when teeth grinding happens on a regular basis it can permanently damage the teeth. In some people it can also aggravate headaches, earaches and pain and discomfort in the jaw.

Teeth grinding usually occurs subconsciously during sleep. In most people, stress and anxiety are a contributing factor to bruxism.

Types of bruxism

  • Awake bruxism – which is when you habitually clench your teeth and jaw when awake (but there is not usually any teeth grinding). Most will do this subconsciously while concentrating.
  • Sleep bruxism – which is when you subconsciously grind your teeth and squeeze your jaw muscles in your sleep. Partners may hear the grinding or clenching, which can be noisy.

Bruxism is then further divided into:

  • Primary bruxism – which occurs without any underlying medical condition
  • Secondary bruxism – which is caused by another condition such as depression or anxiety, medication such as antidepressants, or recreational drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy

How common is Bruxism?

It is not known exactly how many people have bruxism, but up to 8-10% of the UK population are affected by it at some point in their life.

It can occur in both children and adults, but is most common in adults aged 25-44.

There are some estimates that up to 15-33% of children grind their teeth, although the habit tends to stop when their adult teeth are fully formed. In most children it occurs during growth and has no long-lasting effect.

Stress and anxiety are thought to make teeth grinding in your sleep more likely, or worse. Bruxism is also more prevalent in people who regularly drink alcohol, smoke tobacco or drink caffeine (more than six cups a day).


There isn’t a cure for bruxism, although it may be possible to break the teeth-grinding habit by trying habit-reversal techniques.

For those with a known stress-related problem, cognitive behavioural therapy may help treat any underlying stress or anxiety.

Meanwhile, you may need to wear a mouth guard or mouth splint (sometimes referred to as gumshields or gum splints) at night to protect your teeth from wearing down, and may be advised to make simple lifestyle changes, such as giving up smoking (if you smoke) and managing stress.

If left untreated, bruxism can lead to increased dental problems, such as tooth fractures and inflammation (swelling) as well as pain around the jaw joint.

Generally, medication is not used to treat bruxism.