What is Bruxism?
Updated: Mar 24
Bruxism is the dental term for teeth grinding. It's a habit that can be caused by stress, anxiety, nutritional deficiencies, and even sleep disorders.
By Lacy Walker, RDH, BS, CDA, FAAOSH
People who grind their teeth may do so during the day or at night and nighttime teeth grinding is difficult to identify because it occurs when you’re completely unaware of the behavior. And while it may seem like a harmless habit, over time it can damage your teeth and lead to other oral health problems such as tooth sensitivity, the shorter appearance of your teeth, gum recession, jaw pain, headaches, and tooth fractures. It is estimated that teeth grinding occurs in 8–31% of the population without significant differences in relation to gender.
People who grind their teeth can exert up to 250 pounds of pure force and are found to be more common in children, adolescents, and young adults.  Additionally, studies have found anywhere from around 6% to up to nearly 50% of children experience nighttime teeth grinding. The best way to prevent teeth grinding is to identify the underlying cause and address it accordingly.
Teeth grinding and the connections you need to know.
Adequate sleep is key for memory, mood, and recovery. Sleep-disordered breathing can cause a person to unknowingly grind their teeth, and this is your body’s way of letting you know you are not receiving the adequate amount of oxygen the body needs to replenish and recover. Sleep bruxism is a common phenomenon that can affect approximately 13% of the adult population, and it is estimated that approximately 20-50% of sleep bruxers have at least one member of the closest family presenting with this condition.  The Sleep Foundation estimates that one in four people with sleep apnea also shows signs of bruxism or grinding of their teeth. 
When you think of stress, you probably don't associate it with your oral health. But the truth is, stress can greatly impact your teeth and mouth. One of the most common ways stress manifests in your oral health is through teeth grinding and clenching. Studies assessing the relationship between anxiety, depression, and bruxism reported that the anxiety and depression results were statistically significantly higher for bruxers than non-bruxers. 
The pandemic caused changes in the normal routine that led to isolation and unemployment. This type of change is stressful, and elevated levels of stress and anxiety have a well-established link to bruxism. 
If you think you may be grinding your teeth, you can do a few things to help prevent it. Try to identify any sources of stress in your life and find ways to manage them. This may include making lifestyle changes, practicing relaxation techniques, or talking to a therapist.
Teeth grinding is often a sign of nutritional deficiency. Sleep bruxism was associated with vitamin D deficiency and low consumption of calcium and was also associated with increased scores of anxiety and depression.  Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, while calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth. A lack of either one can lead to increased teeth grinding, cavities, and gum disease.
Tooth enamel is one of the hardest structures in the human body, and if you grind your teeth, it's important to take steps to protect your teeth from further damage. The forces and pressure caused by grinding causes the enamel to break down, exposing the next layer of protection, the dentin, which is softer than enamel. Exposed dentin can cause hypersensitivity which has a prevalence range of 3 to 98%.  Dentin is more sensitive to stimuli from hot or cold substances compared to enamel. Desensitizing toothpaste can assist in relieving some of the pain associated with drinking or eating those substances.
Tooth wear is a natural process however teeth grinding is a potential hazard for your teeth. If you grind your teeth regularly or wake up with sore jaw muscles and headaches, it's important to see your dentist so they can monitor your oral health and address your concerns early to protect your teeth from damage.
Smardz J, Martynowicz H, Wojakowska A, Michalek-Zrabkowska M, Mazur G, Wieckiewicz M. Correlation between Sleep Bruxism, Stress, and Depression—A Polysomnographic Study. Journal of Clinical Medicine. 2019; 8(9):1344. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm8091344
Sleep Foundation. (2022) The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Teeth Grinding. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/
Machado, E., Dal-Fabbro, C., Cunali, P. A., & Kaizer, O. B. (2014). Prevalence of sleep bruxism in children: a systematic review. Dental press journal of orthodontics, 19(6), 54–61. https://doi.org/10.1590/2176-9451.19.6.054-061.oar
Alkhatatbeh, M. J., Hmoud, Z. L., Abdul-Razzak, K. K., & Alem, E. M. (2021). Self-reported sleep bruxism is associated with vitamin D deficiency and low dietary calcium intake: a case-control study. BMC oral health, 21(1), 21. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12903-020-01349-3
Dadnam, D., Dadnam, C., & Al-Saffar, H. (2021). Pandemic bruxism. British dental journal, 230(5), 271. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41415-021-2788-3
Van Viet Dam, The Hanh Nguyen, Hai Anh Trinh, Da Thi Dung, Trinh Dinh Hai. Department of Implantology, Ha Noi National Hospital of Odonto-stomatology, Hanoi, Vietnam. VNU School of Medicine and Pharmacy, Vietnam National University, Hanoi, Vietnam. https://opendentistryjournal.com/VOLUME/16/ELOCATOR/e187421062201130/FULLTEXT/