Reviewed by Dr Nurul Aishah Jamaludin
Teeth Grinding at Night: What It Means and How to Stop It
Published | 5 min read
Teeth grinding is characterised by pain in various parts of the upper body. It can also set off irreversible damage to the dental structure.
Have you been told that you make loud, crunching noises while you sleep? Perhaps you often wake up with pain in your face, neck, and shoulders. These symptoms can indicate a condition known as teeth grinding. Specifically, it involves the occlusal surface of your upper and lower teeth knocking against each other independently. Ouch.
This begs the question – what causes teeth grinding? Read on to discover more about this condition and how to stop the habit to prevent permanent dental damage.
Why People Grind Their Teeth During Sleep
Here’s a fun fact: Your upper and lower teeth come into contact less than 20 minutes a day. Unless, of course, you’re a person who grinds your teeth during sleep. Here are some possible reasons why it happens:
Your mental health is a priority
A study has discovered that psychological factors are directly related to nocturnal teeth grinding. People who exhaust their energy and mental focus on their day’s work are highly susceptible to the condition. Likewise, people who are frequently stressed or feel angry, anxious, or irritable are also at an increased risk.
Yes, that’s right, we’re pointing a finger at you. And by you, we mean people who indulge in unhealthy lifestyle practices like cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and the use of recreational drugs. In addition, a person who consumes more than six cups of caffeinated beverages may also be prone to teeth grinding.
Separately, the habitual biting of random items can trigger abnormal movement in the brain cells that connect to the jawbones. Found in the cerebral cortex of the central nervous system, it can provoke a functional disorder of the trigeminal nerve – a cranial nerve that’s responsible for sensation in the face and motor functions like biting and chewing.
Subsequently, an intense, prolonged contraction in the masseter – a facial muscle controlled by the trigeminal nerve and supports the chewing of food – will lead to teeth grinding.
Without balance, you are nothing
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) links teeth gnashing at night to a Qi (vital life force) Deficiency. A study of people who constantly grind their teeth demonstrated that the most notable imbalances were in the bladder and Kidney meridians, and in the Shao Yin and Shao Yang energetic planes. Shao Yin comprises the Heart and Kidneys, while Shao Yang comprises the Triple Energiser and gallbladder.
So, How Do You Stop Teeth Grinding in Sleep Naturally?
If steps are not taken to halt the grinding, it can induce long-term effects, including a reduced ability to chew and a straining of the temporomandibular joint – a joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull.
A person’s teeth will flatten and shorten from over-clenching. The thickest layer of the teeth will wear out, exposing the soft portion of the dentine and pulp cavity. Consequently, their teeth will become sensitive to hot, cold, and sweet or sour tasting foods. Infection, gum bleeding, and tooth decay or loss may also arise from the condition.
Watch what you put in your mouth
Limiting the consumption of foods and beverages that contain alcohol or caffeine is one of the best ways to lower your vulnerability to teeth grinding. These include coffee, chocolate, and strong teas.
Brace for impact
Seek the help of a dentist to put on braces or a mouth guard. It allows for a separation of the upper and lower sets of teeth, thus preventing your teeth from grinding when your jaw clenches. It’ll also protect the condyle muscles and fend off lasting teeth damage.
Put your mind at ease
Improving your psychological health can go a long way in addressing teeth grinding. Start by adopting activities that relax, such as:
- Listening to music
- Taking a hot bath
- Massaging the face with a hot pack
- Avoiding stimulating entertainment programmes
Using acupuncture to alleviate anxiety, stress and sleep disorders may also help with teeth grinding. The acupoints which can be stimulated are zu san li (ST36, 足三里), san yin jiao (SP6, 三陰交), ting gong (SI19, 听宮), and jin men (BI63, 金门). These can enhance blood circulation, promote muscle relaxation, ease muscle spasms, and relieve pain and inflammation. They can also encourage the release of hormones like cortisol and endorphins, which bring about pain relief.
If you’re struggling with teeth grinding, worry not. Be more mindful when you clench your teeth. Do speak to a TCM practitioner beforehand if you wish to consider acupoint stimulation, as different people have unique body constitutions.
This is an adaptation of an article, “Why Is Teeth Grinding Bad?”, which first appeared on the Eu Yan Sang website.
- Cleveland Clinic. Bruxism (Teeth Grinding). [Accessed 18 April 2022]
- Science Direct. 2018. Patterns of Energy Imbalance of the Meridians in Patients with Temporomandibular Dysfunction. [Accessed 18 April 2022]
- ResearchGate. 2013. Acupuncture as therapeutic resource in patient with bruxism. [Accessed 18 April 2022]
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