Overview of Bruxism

Bruxism, often referred to as "gnashing," is the act of involuntary teeth grinding, either while awake or asleep. Bruxism results primarily in tooth damage and jaw pain and may be caused by psychological effects of everyday stress. In some cases, bruxism causes severe damage to the teeth.

Nocturnal bruxism is a common type of parasomnia (i.e., condition that occurs during sleep and creates a disruptive event). This type is especially problematic because it often is not detected until the teeth are affected, which can take years. Bruxism occurs in approximately 5% to 20% of adults, and is even more prevalent among children. In fact, most patients develop the condition during adolescence or early adulthood. Bruxism rarely begins after age 40 and incidence declines with age.

Bruxism occurs an average of 25 times per night, in four- to five-second episodes. Thus, people with bruxism may grind their teeth for more than two minutes during just one night's sleep.

Bruxism Causes

The cause for bruxism is unknown. Factors that may contribute to teeth grinding include stress, facial or oral trauma, nervous system malfunction, poor diet, and allergies. Alcohol and drug use also increase the occurrence of bruxism.

Children with bruxism usually stop grinding their teeth before adulthood. However, bruxism can affect adults for an indefinite period of time. Adults with bruxism have increased occurrence of grinding during times of stress (e.g., health-related, family-related, or job-related).

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 Dec 2000

Last Modified: 04 Oct 2011