Teeth grinding while asleep: Nightmare for the teeth

Almost one in five grinds their teeth at night. Mostly stress is the reason. Malming removes the teeth and overloads the temporomandibular joints. Often it even causes pain in the head and back.

The sleeping people do not know what’s going on in their mouths at night: their teeth bite into each other hard, the jaw grinds, the muscles squeeze – all this happens unconsciously, to reduce the daily stress. Almost every fifth person grinds his teeth. Because this hardly happens during the waking phase, it is often the life partners who first discover the problem.

Who crunches, grinds his teeth off. The temporomandibular joints wear out as well. That’s why many people are hurting their jaw, head and neck during the day. Because the muscles harden and tense through the constant Malmen. Stress at work or in private life can cause teeth grinding. Rarer teeth , crooked teeth , diseases of the jaw or a poorly fitting prosthesis cause nocturnal activity.

Children grind their deciduous teeth flat

Crunching teeth damages adults, but not children. Toddlers mum until the chewing surfaces of the upper and lower jaws fit together. This may even cause the deciduous teeth to grind flat. That’s not bad, because they get new teeth.

In order to protect the teeth of adults, doctors have invented the crunch-splint: a coating of plastic, which is put into the mouth at night. It prevents the denture from grinding too much. But the rail does not help against the tension. The emotional pressure can take relaxation techniques .


Anyone who crunches their teeth at night puts a lot of strain on their teeth: the pressure can build up to a pressure of 150 kilograms. If the pressure continues, teeth, temporomandibular joints and muscles suffer enormously. Most teeth-scribblers also move their rows of teeth against each other. As a result, even the hardest tooth enamel rubs off.

The result: Incisors and occlusal surfaces are ground and polished. Dentists recognize the traces quickly: The finely sanded surfaces shine much stronger than the rest of the tooth. If the enamel is completely rubbed off, the underlying dentin is no longer protected: the tooth now reacts very sensitively to everything possible: hot, cold, sweet and sour. Because the finest nerve endings in the dentin further transmit the stimulus to the tooth nerve inside the tooth. He responds to everything with a pain signal. Other symptoms of teeth grinding can be:

  • The tooth may break apart when the enamel breaks.
  • Where the enamel has rubbed off, the dentin may turn dark.
  • The gums can shrink and start to bleed . If you do nothing, your teeth may wobble and eventually fail.
  • The temporomandibular joints can hurt, because the teeth grinding permanently burdens the entire tissue.

Anyone who does heavy work with the teeth at night constantly tenses up the masticatory muscles. This can also harden the muscles in the neck and shoulder. This in turn can cause headaches and back pain. Sometimes the anguish strikes the temples or the area around the ear.

Sleep disorders


Your dentist will ask you first: whether you notice tense muscles in the morning or if you notice pain. He will also ask if you notice that you are gritting your teeth, and if so, in which situations you do that. If you only grind your teeth while you are asleep, the doctor will want to know what details your life partner has told you.

Then the dentist will look at your teeth : Shiny polished areas on the teeth reveal that the surfaces are constantly being ground there. The physician will then check whether your denture may be crooked , if your TMJ is not in order, if bridges or crowns are wrong, or if fillings are too high. All of these things could also lead to sanded teeth.

If the dentist has not found a visible reason for your abraded dentition, she will assume that you are gritting your teeth. Because the painting and pressing indicate an emotional tension, she will ask if you are suffering from stress and how you feel.

In case of doubt, she will arrange Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) . It shows much better than an x-ray,

  • if your TMJ is okay,
  • whether your jawbones are healthy and
  • whether the cartilage disc has changed between upper and lower jaw.


To protect your teeth, the dentist will offer you a bite guard. It is made of plastic and covers the lower and upper rows of teeth. To make sure the crunching bar fits, the doctor first makes an impression of your teeth, and the dental technician makes a model of it. Then she presses a warm plastic plate that clings to the model. When the plate has become cold, the shape remains. The crunch protection prevents you from further sanding your teeth. Because he holds on to your teeth, lower and upper jaw can no longer be moved against each other – the nightly Malmen has an end.

Physiotherapy for the jaw and chewing joints helps

The dentist may also suggest that you do physiotherapy for the TMJ and masticatory muscles. There are specially trained physiotherapists. They will provide you with stretching and loosening exercises so that your jaw can move normally again.

Crunchy splint and physiotherapy do not remedy the cause of the problem: the stress. To relieve mental pressure, many techniques come into question: Relaxation exercises can help, but also sports can reduce stress. In addition, psychotherapists offer special stress management training .

The Outpatient Clinic for Psychosomatics in the Department of Dentistry in Münster offers help for people with stress, which affects the mouth, teeth and jaw. Dentists, psychotherapists and physiotherapists offer group or individual therapies. They work in depth psychology or behavioral therapy.


Remove the stress!

Ask yourself when and why you are under emotional pressure. Watch yourself and your reactions. Do you also grind your teeth during the day? If so, think about what you can do about it. That helps you even at night. Sport and relaxation exercises are always recommended, maybe you can also improve some living conditions.

Do not be afraid to think about professional support. There are so-called sleep disorders , which can be very helpful: you get through life better, the mouthguard is there as a side effect. Often, the health insurance funds cover the costs for relaxation courses: ask for suitable offers.

If you feel that your guard rail is not sitting or pushing properly, talk to your dentist: he should check the protection every year and adjust it to your teeth if necessary. You can clean your splint with toothbrush and toothpaste. Dishwashing detergent cleans just as well or even better. Then rinse with clear water only.

Sleep disorders

Expert advice

Dr. Philipp Kohorst from the Hannover Medical School answers 
Can teeth grinding disappear on its own? Yes, with normal bruxism (teeth grinding) where stress is the cause, it can happen. When a stressful situation comes to an end or the problems resolve, the trigger disappears and the crunching of the night comes to an end. Nevertheless, naturally occurring damage to fillings or crowns should be remedied. Possibly also is a periodontal therapy necessary if there are problems with the tooth holding device. Basically, you should not take teeth grind lightly. If you notice it in yourself or a relative says something, you should not wait until it goes by itself again. Then urgent medical advice is needed.

How do your patients react when it turns out that stress or mental stress are the cause of teeth grinding?

That is very different. Most are aware of their illness and also admit that they are very stressed mentally. Some claim that they have not done anything to stop the crunch earlier, especially when the teeth are already badly damaged.

However, many patients do not really want to address the causes. The hint of a psychotherapeutic treatment is sometimes very difficult to convey, because mental problems are often dismissed as spinsting. Here we always try to make it clear that this is also a real illness that needs treatment. Of course, everyone has to decide for themselves if they want to seek professional help.

However, such a therapy is only necessary in a few patients. Most can easily get their stress under control themselves. The patients, who have mostly used psychosomatic help, but then report consistently positive about the successes.

What should you pay attention to with a protective rail?

A little tension on the teeth is normal, after all, the rail should be tight. When biting together, make sure that all teeth hit evenly and there are no early contacts. One should also not feel that the jaw is held in an uncomfortable position. If the symptoms worsen, the splint should be checked.

Is it normal that even teenagers grate with their teeth?

This is a worrying development: up to 15 percent of adolescents are affected by bruxism. Apparently, young people, for example, seem to be under stress at school so that this psychological pressure has to find their way. I think the number will continue to increase as the burden on young people increases in the future.

What must affected young people or their parents pay attention to?

Important is a timely treatment. That can be a crunching rail. It is known that people who grind their teeth at a young age suffer more often from malfunctions of the jaw muscles or temporomandibular joints later in life. However, the treatment should be closely monitored so as not to interfere with the normal development of the jaw.

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