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What are the Causes of Teeth Grinding and Clenching?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2016
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Teeth grinding and clenching is called bruxism, which has many possible causes. Researchers are not certain of the exact cause, but stress and pain are likely major factors in whether a person experiences teeth grinding and clenching. Everyday stress, such as relationship conflict and work-related issues, is a common factor in people who develop this habit. In addition, pain from an earache or toothache may cause someone to develop the habit temporarily. Lastly, some experts have observed connections between certain medical conditions and teeth grinding and clenching.

Most researchers generally agree that daily stress is a major factor in cases of bruxism. Someone who is overly stressed might grind and clench day and night, rarely realizing that he or she is doing so until symptoms appear. If the person is experiencing severe symptoms from teeth grinding and clenching, such as severe pain and a locking jaw, it is usually safe to assume that he or she is doing it while asleep. In this case, it is not unusual to wake up with a sore and tired jaw, headache, or severe facial pain.

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This habit frequently presents itself in people who often experience anger, frustration, and pain. Those who are overly competitive or constantly hurried may also experience bruxism. In most cases, these people are stressed emotionally, physically, or both. For example, when someone is in pain due to an earache or toothache, he or she might grind and clench. The same goes for pain in other areas of the body, though grinding and clenching due to an earache or toothache is more common.

While symptoms such as stress and other mental and emotional complications are among the most common causes of teeth grinding and clenching, there are many other less common causes. In children, bruxism may occur because of teething or the development of the teeth and jaws. This condition can also be influenced by changes to sleep patterns or medical conditions such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease. Misalignment of the teeth or jaw as well as diet and posture have also been observed as causes of teeth grinding and clenching, among many others.

There is no cure for teeth grinding and clenching, only treatments for the actual cause. Stress management, mouth guards or splints, and many other options are available to lessen or eliminate grinding and clenching to prevent serious wear on the teeth. The person is not usually medicated, but occasionally muscle relaxants are prescribed.

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