Why We Clench Our Teeth When We Sleep

Teeth Clenching  | Sleep Disorders

teeth clenching Westchester County

The prevalence of clenching and grinding while sleeping is over 20%.

In this article, you will learn:

  • How to stop clenching your teeth when you sleep
  • What does grinding your teeth while you sleep mean?
  • How to Stop Clenching Your Teeth

What does it mean to clench your teeth?

It sounds like a simple question, but what it means to clench one’s teeth is a source of debate and topic of research. People of all ages clench their teeth, but not everyone who clenches is aware they have a problem or know when it is happening.

Signs of wear may be seen by a Westchester County dentist. People who grind their teeth at night often wake up with sore, tired jaws. Many people grind or clench their teeth during the day.

Why is grinding teeth bad?

Parafunctional habits such as grinding or clenching can wear away the tooth enamel leaving them sensitive to temperature. They can cause loss of structure of the teeth at the gum line, which can be sensitive and unaesthetic. They can also cause loosening of the teeth.

Grinding can cause jaw problems or TMD, which results in facial pain, chronic headaches, clicking in the jaw and lead to osteoarthritis of the jaw.

Teeth grinding and clenching is very detrimental to the teeth, the supporting structures of the teeth (bone and gums), and the muscles and joints, which makes up the jaw mechanism. Untreated grinding can break teeth, requiring getting crowns or extraction and grinding teeth down to the point that it involves the nerves of the teeth.

Teeth grinding can cause damage to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), resulting in osteoarthritis of the joint with pain, grinding noises, and clicking while chewing. This parafunction can also cause chronic headaches due to the overworking of the muscles of the head and face.

3 Reasons People Clench Their Teeth

There are different opinions as to why people grind their teeth.

The top 3 reasons why people clench their teeth are:

1) Some think it is a stress habit.
2) Some think it is a discrepancy in the bite.
3) Research also indicates that clenching can be a sign of an airway problem.

Many medications cause grinding and clenching as a side effect.

How do I stop myself from clenching my teeth?

Evaluation by a dentist is essential if you are looking to stop clenching your teeth when you sleep. An oral appliance can protect the teeth and jaws from nighttime grinding, but it won’t stop the problem.

Determining the cause and correcting it can be very effective. Over the counter oral appliances are available, but we don’t recommend them because of the lack of proper bite and functional design. In addition, OTC appliances are soft and people tend to chew them, making the problem worse.

Digital scans can be used to analyze the bite, and medications can be evaluated.

It is important to rule out an airway problem as the cause of the clenching. Untreated sleep apnea can cause serious medical conditions such as heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, impotence, and depression.

A sleep study may even be taken at home to provide insight as to how you are sleeping.

Is clenching teeth a sign of stress?

If stress is the suspected source, do whatever you need to eliminate what’s causing your stress and find a way to unwind such as meditation or yoga.

If you are grinding your teeth during the day, it is important to become aware of it so you can catch yourself and stop the parafunction.

The rule is “lips together, teeth apart” unless you are chewing or swallowing.

Night Guard for Teeth Clenching

If you are having trouble sleeping, a custom mouth guard or a sleep study may be ideal. Contact us today for a consultation.



For additional information on teeth grinding, read Dr. Magid’s interview on teeth grinding in SheKnows here 

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  • Advanced Dentistry of Westchester
  • Kenneth S. Magid, DDS, FICD
  • Sabrina Magid-Katz, DMD
  • 163 Halstead Ave. • Harrison, NY 10528
  • (914) 835-0542

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