Grinding your teeth together when you are asleep is surprisingly common. Most teeth-grinders are unaware that they do it and find out only because their partner complains. When they wake up, they may feel discomfort or pain and stiffness in the jaw, shoulders or neck, facial pain, earache, or have a headache, but they will not know the cause. Other causes are medicines such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and those with obstructive sleep apnoea as well as those using recreational drugs are more likely to have it.

Causes of Teeth Grinding

Teeth grinding is sometimes caused by the upper and lower teeth not fitting together properly – dentists call this ‘malocclusion’. The grinding may be a subconscious attempt to grind the teeth down until they fit. Some people who grind their teeth have a problem with the joint of their jaw (where the jaw hinges onto the skull). Clicking or grating of the joint, or occasional locking of the jaw, suggests a joint problem.

Another possibility is stress. Dentists say that teeth grinding is becoming increasingly common, which may be a sign that we live in a stressful society. Apparently, teeth grinding usually occurs during the dreaming phases of sleep.

What You Can Do

Your dentist should be your first port of call. The dentist will tell you if there is abnormal wear and tear of your teeth, and whether the grinding has damaged the enamel. Serious damage to the enamel is fairly unlikely. Unfortunately, enamel does not repair itself (a design fault of the human body), so teeth might need to be crowned if the enamel has been damaged.

To help you break the grinding habit, your dentist may make a night-guard for you to wear. This is a plastic appliance that keeps the teeth apart and allows your muscles to relax into a normal position. Sometimes a dentist can relieve the problem by slightly grinding down some of your teeth, so they meet correctly – doing the job you were trying to do in your sleep.

If you think stress is a factor, work out ways of reducing it or coping. Look in your local library or online for self-help books on stress or speak to your GP who can refer for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Anything that helps to relax you, such as massage, yoga or exercise, would be worth trying.


First published on:
Reviewed and edited by: Dr Anna Cantlay
Last updated: October 2020

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