Teeth Clenching: Why We Do It, What Effects It Has and How to Stop It

January 16, 2020

Teeth clenching and grinding can be hard to deal with because it causes pain and discomfort, yet we oftentimes aren’t even aware of the clenching and grinding actions that cause the problems. 

Roughly 70 percent of the adult population clenches and grinds their teeth as a result of stress and anxiety (http://www.colgate.com/en/us/oc/oral-health/conditions/bruxism/article/teeth-grinding-how-to-stop-grinding-your-teeth-at-night-0214) — 8 percent of the population suffers from sleep bruxism — and 10 percent deal with daytime bruxism. 

Unfortunately, clenching and grinding your teeth can create several problems, which we see in patients here at Applewood Dental. 


Effects on teeth/jaw include: 

  • Wear. Chronic grinding can cause heavy wear on your teeth. The first layer — the enamel layer — will eventually wear down causing the second layer — dentin — to be exposed. This can lead to sensitivity. Oftentimes, this can also cause aesthetic issues such as your teeth becoming flat and looking shorter than they once did. Your teeth can even chip or break. 
  • Abfraction lesions. These are wedge-shaped lesions found where the tooth meets the gum line. As you grind or clench, your teeth flex at the gum line. Over time, this can cause these abfraction lesions, which lead to sensitivity and can cause food traps for bacteria leading to decay. 
  • Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD or TMJ). Chronic grinding and clenching put a lot of stress of your temporomandibular joint, which acts like a hinge attaching your jawbone to your skull. Over time, inflammation can build behind the joint. This puts tension on blood vessels in the area and can lead to jaw joint pain. You may also develop clicking or popping noises, which are caused by your joint being out of the correct alignment. 
  • Locked jaw. Occasionally your jaw joint can become dislocated from the correct position and you can lock your jaw in a wide-open position. In this case, a hot shower can help relax your muscles allowing the jaw to go back into the correct position. Sometimes, a dentist can manipulate your jaw to go back into the correct position. 
  • Cheek biting or tongue biting. Beyond your teeth and jaw being affected, clenching and grinding can impact your overall health. It can lead to headaches and shoulder or neck pain because of muscles being overworked. Patients also suffer from poor sleep and pain that radiates to their ears. 


A potential upside to this issue is that there are several known causes for bruxism, meaning that you can potentially get to the heart of the problem. 


Reasons you may grind or clench your teeth include: 

  • Stress. 
  • Sleep apnea or other breathing issues affecting sleep. People with sleep apnea, seasonal allergies or people who are unable to breath properly through their nose will often be teeth grinders. This is because your body naturally wants you to breathe through your nose. When you are unable to breathe through your nose, your body will send signals to the brain that you are not getting enough oxygen, and in return, your brain sends signals to your jaw to grind and clench to force your mouth to open and thus allow you to be able to breathe through your mouth. 
  • Malocclusion, or misaligned teeth. When you close your mouth, your teeth help to guide your jaw into the correct position. Often, when your teeth don’t come together properly, your jaw cannot be guided into the correct position, so your body will grind your teeth in order to find the correct position. 
  • Acid reflux. 
  • Side effect of certain medications. 
  • Disorders such as Parkinson’s. 

You may be able to identify the cause of your grinding, but oftentimes, an exam by dentists like Dr. Erin Cettie and Dr. Tiffany Manzo at Applewood Dental are the best way to get to the root of the issue and identify possible solutions. 


However, even with understanding the causes, resolving the issue of teeth clenching and grinding isn’t always easy. Possible solutions include the following: 

  • Lab-made mouth guard. Lab-made guards are custom made to fit your mouth and are equilibrated for your teeth. Store-bought night guards can work but also can cause more damage. They can be difficult to fit properly and are not equilibrated to your jaw. If you buy a store-bought guard, make sure to discuss with your dentist. 
  • Referral to specialist. TMJ specialist can discuss options such as orthodontics to correct a poor bite, more advanced appliances to help reset your jaw and allow your teeth to close in their natural position. 
  • Botox. Botox injections can help with inflammation and may be prescribed for people who don’t succeed with other treatments. 
  • Correcting poor breathing issues. Addressing breathing issues, such as sleep apnea, can help to prevent grinding. 
  • Crown or filling. Oftentimes when a tooth is severely worn, a crown or filling is necessary to protect remaining tooth structure. 
  • Stress management and jaw exercises. 
  • Chiropractic care. Chiropractic adjustments can help realign your jaw and reduce tension. 


If you suffer from the symptoms outlined above or know that you grind and clench your teeth, contact Dr. Erin Cettie and Dr. Tiffany Manzo at Applewood Dental in Wheat Ridge at 303-237-2707 to discuss possible treatment options. 

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