Sleep bruxism, also known as nocturnal tooth grinding, is the medical term for clenching or grinding teeth during sleep. A type of movement disorder that occurs during sleep, bruxism is a common condition - one survey estimates that 8% of adults grind their teeth at night and a study shows that more than a third of parents report symptoms of bruxism in their children. Occasional bruxism may not be harmful but when it occurs regularly, it may be associated with moderate to severe dental damage, facial pain, and disturbed sleep.
Although the causes of bruxism are unknown, one study links it with such factors as anxiety, stress, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, caffeine, sleep apnea, snoring and fatigue. Importantly, psychiatric or psychological factors do not play a role in most cases. Use of certain medications, including amphetamines, are also associated with episodes of bruxism. Sleep apnea may also be related to sleep bruxism, and evidence suggests that treating sleep apnea can help alleviate sleep bruxism.
People who have sleep bruxism can also suffer headaches, earaches, jaw pain, jaw joint disorders and damaged teeth. Sleep bruxism may also be linked with other medical conditions and have an impact on quality of life. If you feel you may suffer from sleep bruxism, talk to your doctor about ways to treat it and see Treatment and Coping.
Reviewed by David G. Davila, MD (December 2009).