Nighttime is meant to be a period of peace and quiet — restful evenings, pleasant dreams and rejuvenation before another day. But, when you deal with teeth grinding, that probably isn’t the case. You end up with pain, tooth issues, and you may even wake up a little tired.
Plus, when you deal with teeth grinding ― or bruxism, as it’s known medically ― you will likely deal with repercussions that go way beyond the anticipated tooth pain and damage.
“Your dental health can affect your medical health,” said Dr. Floretta Cuffey-Terry, president of Robert T. Freeman Dental Society in Washington, D.C. If you are a chronic tooth grinder, you may experience adjacent issues that range from nutrition problems to an onslaught of stress.
Here, experts share the signs you should look out for if you think you may be grinding your teeth at night, along with some advice on how to address it.
If you spend your sleeping hours grinding your teeth, it’s highly likely that you’ll end up with headaches as a result of that pressure in your mouth and jaw, said Dr. Albert Coombs, owner of Smile Services DC and member of the international dental implant association.
These morning headaches are basically your body’s way of coming down from an extreme amount of pressure overnight, he added. Tooth-grinding headaches generally occur around the temples and back toward the ears.
Similarly to waking up with a headache, you may wake up with pain around your mouth muscles or notice fatigue in your jaw muscles, Cuffey-Terry said. This pain can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, but will likely be at its worst when you wake up in the morning.
Jaw pain is not something you should be waking up with automatically, so if you notice this sensation, get in touch with your dentist.
It may seem obvious, but if you have tooth pain or tooth soreness in the morning, you may be dealing with bruxism.
Dr. Marjan Moghadam, a clinical associate professor at New York University’s College of Dentistry, noted that toothaches are a clear sign of teeth grinding at night. And, they’re reason enough to call your dentist. (And even beyond morning tooth pain, toothaches at any time of day should be reported.)
Wear and tear on your teeth
According to Moghadam, “the act of grinding can cause tooth wear that over time can lead to destruction of the tooth structure itself, as well as the bone that supports the tooth in the jawbone.”
Specifically, if you’re looking in your mouth and notice that your tooth crown (which is the visible part of the tooth) is wearing down, you may be grinding your teeth at night, Cuffey-Terry added. In this instance, you may notice a chip in your tooth or discoloration in the form of white streaks.
You may also notice a shift in your teeth, Moghadam added. If you have a tooth that appears to be pushed forward or backward out of nowhere, you may be grinding your teeth while you sleep.
Sensitivity to hot and cold foods
That wear and tear on your teeth impacts how you eat, too. According to Coombs, it is also common to experience sensitivity to hot and cold foods and drinks if you are a chronic grinder.
“This has to do with the fact that, if you’re a prolonged grinder, you’ll start to see small fracture lines throughout the teeth,” he said. Those small fracture lines are “almost direct access to the nerve of the tooth.”
If that glass of ice cold water has a clear path to your tooth’s nerve, you better believe you’ll feel some sensitivity as soon as you take a sip.
Someone who constantly grinds their teeth may not realize it, but they are likely waking themselves up every couple of hours throughout the night, Coombs said.
This could be from discomfort or pain, or just the fact that a constantly moving mouth means a disruptive night of rest. As a result, you may be more likely to deal with sleepiness during the day.
Teeth grinding is more common now than it was pre-pandemic
You’re probably very aware that living through a pandemic has been stressful. So have things like inflation and political unrest, to name a few.
And stress manifests itself in more ways than you’d think, including teeth grinding.
The National Institutes of Health “did research in 2020 [that discovered] the linkage between stress and bruxism,” Coombs said. “What they found is 95% of people that are under an immense amount of stress show signs of bruxism.”
And who isn’t at least a little bit stressed right now?
Coombs added that the American Dental Association found a 70% increase in bruxism in a March 2021 poll, which cited the pandemic as the reason behind the increase in this stress response. If teeth grinding was something you never dealt with before, you’re not alone if you all of a sudden notice some teeth-grinding red flags.
If you suspect you’re grinding your teeth, see your dentist
If you think you’re grinding your teeth at night, you should seek professional help from your dentist, Moghadam said.
“The dentist can examine and evaluate the signs and symptoms in order to rule out any other issue — such as dental infection or other habits that could be contributing.”
They’ll also be able to make recommendations for the best next steps and treatments, which can include mouth guards, muscle relaxers or even stress management.