The Nightly Grind: Why Am I Grinding My Teeth In My Sleep?

Grinding your teeth (more properly termed bruxism) while you sleep is a common problem and difficult to diagnose, especially if you sleep alone. However, if your dentist does diagnose you with nocturnal tooth grinding, that isn't the end of the story--the hardest part of treating bruxism is figuring out what's causing it. Medical professionals have yet to agree on any one, clear-cut cause for bruxism. Instead, there are a range of risk factors commonly associated with bruxism, and reducing or eliminating these factors is the best way to stop involuntary tooth grinding before any serious damage is done to your teeth. Here are a few of the most commonly-encountered risk factors:

Psychological causes

Night time bruxism is very commonly associated with stress, and most dentists who find the signs of tooth grinding in a patient will recommend that the patient try to reduce their stress levels if at all possible. Naturally, everyone vents their stress in different ways, so you may have to try several de-stressing and relaxation techniques before you hit on one that works for you--commonly recommended practises include meditation, yoga and increased physical exercise. Some patients may benefit from counselling to try and determine the causes of their stress.

Besides stress, a number of more serious medical conditions, such as epilepsy and cerebral palsy, have been tenuously linked to sleep bruxism. Generally it's best to keep your dentist aware of any pre-existing conditions you suffer from, so they can offer treatment and advice that suits you.

Sleep disorders

There are a number of sleep disorders that cause abnormal levels of arousal in the sleeping brain and may lead to the jaw muscle spasms that cause tooth grinding. Sleepwalking, night terrors, or even an extended period of bad dreams may all be linked to your bruxism. So it's important to make your dentist aware of any sleep disturbances you may suffer from, as well as any treatment you are seeking for them. Sleep apnea has also been linked to nocturnal tooth grinding, so sufferers of both conditions may decide to opt for a tongue extender. These devices keep the tongue straight and the airways open to combat sleep apnea, but also provide a handy barrier between your rows of teeth.

In cases like this without a quick and easy fix, your dentist may also decide to fit you with a mouth guard--these polymer guards are shaped to fit your teeth and can be very effective if worn on a nightly basis.


Certain medications are also believed to provoke bruxism in certain patients. In most cases, the medications in question are prescribed to patients with psychological complaints-- antidepressants, medical amphetamines and L-DOPA (a medication prescribed to some mental illness patients and most Parkinson's disease patients) are all believed to be linked to grinding teeth. If your dentist makes you aware of bruxism symptoms, and you are currently taking one or more of these types of medications, you should speak to your prescribing doctor as soon as is practical--in some cases, you doctor may be able to offer alternative medications.