WHY are you grinding your teeth?

Have you ever been surprised when your dentist informs you that you may be grinding your teeth while asleep? This is known as noctural burxism, an unconscious habit that can have severe long term damaging effects to the teeth and related structures.

As I evaluate the oral health condition of each patient, I also examine the teeth for signs of wear – evidence of either grinding or clenching. Patients will often report that yes, they are aware they do grind their teeth – they even catch themselves doing so during the day or their partner has told them! But for every clear diagnosis, there is a subset for whom this habit may be cyclical, in times of stress or other lifestyle factors.

The habits and traits that are listed below have only been proven to likely cause sleep bruxism. Not all patients who take part in one or two – or even all of the likely causes – will actually grind their teeth at night. However, when significant wear is present on the teeth, its beneficial to evaluate the why along with treatment.

What habits and traits raise the chances of developing nocturnal bruxism?


Patients that smoke on a regular basis are twice as likely to develop nocturnal bruxism than ynon-smoking patients. Similar to the causes of this condition, there really isn’t an answer as to why smoking cigarettes can lead to bruxism.

Drug/Alcohol Use

Just like cigarettes, the ingestion of drugs and alcohol also double a patient’s chance of developing nocturnal bruxism. While it may seem relaxing to enjoy a glass of wine or two before going to bed to help one wind down and sleep, in reality, alcohol is known to break up sleeping patterns. If you then sleep poorly, this triggers muscles to hyper-activate and the teeth to grind.

Sleep Disordered Breathing

As it was mentioned above, those who sleep poorly are more likely to grind their teeth while they sleep than those who get a good night’s rest. If you tend to a snore, you are also twice as likely to exhibit nocturnal bruxism. Shallow breathing and/or snoring triggers the brain to respond which causes one to wake frequently during the night.


To most people, caffeine is considered a stimulant to help keep them energized during the day. What some people don’t know is that caffeine has a half-life of three to 12 hours after it’s consumed. Caffeine triggers muscle activity,

which can cause frequent waking periods during the night that can contribute to nocturnal bruxism.

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adapted from an article by Dr. Martin Mendelson, D.D.S., Spear Faculty

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