Teeth Grinding: What you need to know

By Brian Nambale

Many parents ask more frequently about teeth grinding in their children; this is what you need to know advice/ give counsel about it.  Teeth grinding (also called bruxism) are involuntary (you do it without controlling yourself) rhythmic movement of the teeth rubbing across each other or clenching against each other characterized by a loud cracking sound and can occur during the day or night.

As time goes on the top hard layer of teeth (enamel) wears off reducing the tooth size.

Causes of teeth grinding

At all ages, it can set in and it’s always not clear to direct teeth grinding to one way but it’s often linked to:

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  • Stress or anxiety- this is the most common cause
  •  Use of too much coffee or caffeine-contained formulations.
  • Drug consumption especially codeine, cocaine and ecstasy
  • Teeth grinding is twice in smokers than any other cause because smoking exposes nicotine to the body systems which stimulates Dopamine(a neurotransmitter and hormone) which helps in movement, memory and pleasurable reward with motivation).High/low levels of this dopamine are associated effects to desire for sexual activity, erection and ejaculation.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • While on certain treatments of depression (antidepressants) a class called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors(SSRIs)
  • Sleep problems like snoring and episodes of stopping to breathe (sleep apnoea) 
  • Previous meningitis sepsis disease according to research published by V. Siapka,2007 “Meningococcal septicemia vs Dental problems”
  • People with oral habits like nail biting, pen/pencil and rubber chewing, tongue thrusting(forcing tongue against the front teeth forcefully out)
  • Supine sleeping position (lying face up )
  • Dry mouth syndrome due to certain drugs/ general sickness and associated reduced salivary flow. 
  • Birth injuries in babies cause brain injuries/damage
  • Epilepsy
  • Congenital abnormalities like cerebral palsy, down syndrome, autism….

Teeth grinding is common in children and teenagers, particularly during sleep. It often stops when they reach adulthood and their adult teeth have come through.

Symptoms of teeth grinding

Teeth grinding can happen while you’re awake or asleep.

  • worn-down or broken teeth, which can cause increased sensitivity and loss of teeth and fillings
  • face, neck and shoulder pain
  • headaches
  • earache
  • disturbed sleep
  • a painful jaw called Temporomandibular disorder(TMD)

Is tooth grinding bothering you?

You can seek a dentist’s advice when: 

  • you grind your teeth and have pain in your jaw, face or ear
  • you grind your teeth and have tooth damage or sensitive teeth 
  • your partner says you’re grinding your teeth in your sleep 
  • you’re worried about your child grinding their teeth

If you think some of the causes of teeth grinding, such as stress, anxiety, smoking, drinking too much or taking drugs. Visit a General practitioner who can help you advise and recommend treatments for reducing stress.

Also, a multi-speciality inter-disciplinary team approach will be helpful to help you give out with smoking or drug addiction or cutting down alcohol.

Prevention and Reduction of Tooth Grinding

There are a number of things you can try that may help if you grind your teeth.


  • have regular dental check-ups
  • find ways to relax – for example, by doing deep breathing exercises, listening to music (best of your heart) and taking regular exercise.
  • try to improve your sleep by going to bed at the same time every night, relaxing before bedtime and making sure your bedroom is dark and quiet.
  • take painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen if you have jaw pain or swelling.
  • use an ice pack (or bag of frozen peas) wrapped in a tea towel for 20 to 30 minutes to help reduce jaw pain or swelling

If you’re receiving strong medicine for any medical reasons like antidepressants, vomiting stoppage medicine(e.g Plasil, domperidone ),  Levodopa and many neurological treatments please  inform your doctor or consult a physician


  • do not smoke
  • do not drink too much alcohol
  • do not take drugs like ecstasy or cocaine
  • do not chew gum or eat hard foods if you have tooth or jaw pain

Available Treatment 

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Depending on the cause, a dentist will repair the damaged teeth and may also recommend a mouth guard or mouth splint which are worn at night and protect your teeth from damage. They can be made by a dentist to fit precisely over your upper or lower teeth.

 Please note that the above symptoms can occur in any other disease too you need thorough medical consultation and examination to find the cause and receive effective advice & Treatment.

Brian Nambale, is a Clinical case manager, Medicure Trauma Centre – Nabumali, an LCV Councillor in Mbale & Member of the Health & Education Committee

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