How do I know if I grind my teeth? This might be a question you have found yourself asking if you have unexplained symptoms, jaw pain, or pain in your mouth and gums. 

Do you sometimes wake up with a sore mouth or jaw pain? Maybe you have unexplained headaches or what feels like it could be an earache. You might even have damage to your teeth and have no idea where it came from. For some, this situation can be so severe that your entire jaw locks up–making it impossible for you to fully open or close your mouth. 

If this has happened in the past and you don’t know why or to what to attribute it , read on to answer the question, “how do I know if I grind my teeth?

What is teeth grinding?

Teeth grinding (clinically called Bruxism), is something that affects about 8-10% of the population. According to dentalcare.com, Bruxism can be separated into two categories: “Sleep Bruxism” and “Awake Bruxism.” If you grind your teeth, this exclusively happens while people are sleeping. This is why is makes it hard to know whether or not it’s definitely happening. 

Awake Bruxism does not usually cause you to grind your teeth. If you only suffer from this while you are awake, it means you are involuntarily clenching your jaw. This can also cause a lot of jaw pain and damage to your teeth. If you have noticed that you have jaw pain or unexplained head or earaches, seeking dental care is a good idea. 

What causes people to grind their teeth?

If you are asking the question, ‘how do I know if I grind my teeth?’ chances are there are other factors happening in your life that you should take note of. There are a few different significant reasons you might start grinding your teeth. 

1. Stress

Stress and anxiety are probably the most significant reason you might be waking up with damage to your teeth from grinding. Although you might not realize it, if you are experiencing stress or anxiety during the day, it can show up in different ways at night once you are asleep. For some, stress might play out in your dreams. For others you might involuntarily be grinding your teeth and clenching your jaw while you’re sleeping. 

2. Sleep Apnea

The connection between sleep apnea and teeth grinding isn’t completely clear. What is clear, is that the presence of one significantly increases the presence of another. For example, if you grind your teeth at night when you sleep, there is a great possibility that you are also at risk for sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea is a disorder where you have momentary pauses in breathing while you are sleeping. Undiagnosed or untreated teeth grinding can lead to an increase chance of sleep apnea, and likewise, sleep apnea can mean a greater chance you will grind your teeth in your sleep. 

If you suspect either one of these things (that you grind your teeth or that you might suffer from sleep apnea), you should definitely seek out oral care or dental care. 

3. Medication or recreational drug use

You might be surprised at the idea that medical or recreational drug use could cause teeth grinding. There are certain antidepressants that can cause teeth grinding. This seems to be more prevalent in female patients than in male patients. 

Additionally, those who use certain drugs recreationally can also develop teeth-grinding tendencies. This is most common with drugs that are stimulants like cocaine, speed, and ecstasy. The stimulants in these drugs cause users to clench their jaw and grind their teeth more involuntarily. 

Who does it affect? 

Unknown to many, children actually commonly have issues with teeth grinding. According to the Sleep Foundation, anywhere from 6-50% of the population of children grind their teeth at some point. This is caused by a few different factors including those that are psychological, genetic, and environmental. 

Stressful situations such as those at school for older children ,or in the home for younger children, can also contribute to the onset of teeth grinding. Additionally, research shows that secondhand smoke is another significant risk factor that can lead to teeth grinding. 

Grinding your teeth is an issue that affects about 8-10% of the adult population. Because of the fact that stress and anxiety are the number one reason you might grind your teeth, you won’t be surprised to know that it is mostly young and middle-aged adults in the range of mid-20s to mid-40s that are affected by teeth grinding. 

Can grinding your teeth cause damage? 

In a word, Yes. Teeth grinding, over time, can cause many problems for the health of your mouth, jaw and teeth. Here are just a few:

  • fractures or broken teeth
  • receding gums
  • other problems with teeth and jaw
  • temporomandibular jaw disorder (TMJ)–a condition that causes your entire mouth and jaw to lock up
  • greater chance of a disordered eating
  • problems with sleep
  • greater chance of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues

If you suspect any of these issues, you should seek oral care for yourself or your child. 

Signs and Symptoms

While many of the signs or symptoms of teeth grinding can also be flags for other issues happening with your health, it’s important to pay attention to some of these when paired together with unexplained pain or anxiety. 

Here are some of the more prominent signs or symptoms to consider:

  • fractured or broken teeth
  • grinding or jaw clenching–sometimes loudly enough to wake someone else who is sleeping
  • teeth that are chipped, flattened or loose when they shouldn’t be
  • receded gums or enamel that has been worn–which will expose deeper layer of tooth
  • more tooth pain or tooth sensitivity than is normal for you
  • tired or sore jaw muscles
  • a locked up jaw that won’t open or close
  • unexplained headaches our ear pain

As stated before, you might have one or more of these symptoms with something completely unrelated to grinding your teeth. But if you’re asking yourself, “how do I know if I am grinding my teeth?” then this list, and more importantly, more than one symptom on this list might be helpful in figuring out if you need to seek dental care. 

What can be done about it? 

If you believe you are grinding your teeth, there are a few things you can do. There isn’t necessarily a “cure” for grinding your teeth as often it is a symptom of something larger. That said, you can definitely seek help to learn about how to make relevant lifestyle changes and minimize damage to your teeth and gums. 

  • A mouthguard, for example, is one way to help mitigate the effects of teeth grinding at night. It won’t stop you from grinding, but it does protect your teeth from this action. 
  • If you believe there to be bigger underlying cause such as anxiety, behavioral therapy will be helpful in many cases to help reduce the overall stress and anxiety in your life. 

If you are asking yourself these questions about grinding your teeth, the first thing you should do is reach out to your dental care or oral care provider to schedule an exam.

Here at The Dental Institute in Bethesda, we can’t emphasize enough that oral care is not something to be overlooked, especially if you feel there is something wrong.