What is bruxism?

It is the grinding or clenching of teeth usually at times of stress or high concentration.

In some instances the person who has the habit is not aware of it. Often it is the spouse who hears the grating and grinding sound during the night from a partner bruxing during sleep.

Children can also grind their teeth – the sound often so loud that it can be heard beyond the bedroom.

Why can it be a problem?

Chewing at meal times involves some grinding and clenching of the teeth. However, if this is done for other reasons at times it can lead to a number of difficulties including:

  • Worn down teeth
  • Loose teeth
  • Damage to the jaw joints
  • Enlarged jaw muscles
  • Painful jaw muscles
  • Split teeth
  • Broken teeth
  • Some forms of headache or neckache
  • Ear and hearing problems

A protruding piece of tooth
is preventing the teeth meeting together properly.

Following adjustment of the bite, the upper and lower teeth now touch together correctly.

Relaxation Techniques

There are a number of psychological techniques which can help with handling a stress situation. These include methods to help one think and see logically, and progressive relaxation procedures.

Identifying irrational beliefs and replacing them with more rational ones is invariably an important step in stress management.

Regular exercise, such as walking, increases resistance to stress.

What causes it?

Bruxism is commonly triggered by a stressful event such as starting a new job or a new school, examinations, relationship problems or some other personal crisis.

Once established the habit may come into play when a person is tired or stressed.

In some instances a poor bite, caused by problems such as parts of teeth or fillings being too high, can start the habit.


Sometimes the condition, if it has been related to stress, continues of its own accord once a person has adjusted to a situation.

However if bruxing is an established pattern it is advisable to have it investigated and treated.

Adjustment of the bite

Ideally the upper and lower teeth should meet together evenly and comfortably. However, if for some reason this does not happen, bruxism can start as the jaw and the chewing muscles try to grind the teeth into a position where everything feels comfortable.

Often the smoothing down of the fillings or teeth that are protruding too far is all that is required to rectify the problem.

Wearing a bite splint

Relief from the effects of bruxism can be obtained from wearing an acrylic bite splint (usually at night).The splint separates the upper and lower teeth and so protects the teeth from further damage and relieves the soreness in the chewing muscles and jaw joints.

The splint is light and, nomally, is made to fit the top teeth. The biting surface of the splint is made quite smooth so that the opposing teeth can slide over it very easily.

Shown below is a bite splint that fits over the upper teeth. It keeps the upper and lower teeth from locking together.

Bite splint in place

The upper and lower teeth are kept separated

Source: “Help for Bruxism” Dental Health Foundation Australia