Experiencing toothache from grinding teeth? Read how teeth grinding or bruxism affects your mouth and some advice on how to control the impulse.

We all have experienced a toothache once or twice in our lives.

The pain varies from person to person. It ranges from a dull ache with a mild headache to sharp piercing pains that will cause one to wince.

Toothaches are caused by different circumstances. Mostly by damage or decay to the teeth.

The pain we feel in our teeth usually subsides once restoration dental treatment has taken place. Teeth grinding, however, will continue giving you a hard time if you do not stop it.

Dental treatment can only go so far.

So now to the question – can grinding teeth cause tooth pain?

Why Do You Get Toothache From Grinding Teeth?

Toothache from grinding teeth

Toothache and grinding teeth have a high percentage of appearing together.

There are two main reasons why one will get a tooth pain from grinding teeth.

The first reason is not easily noticed by ordinary people – stress on the teeth and the jaw.

The stress and strain from grinding teeth cause one to develop aches and pains in the face, neck, and jaws.

The second one, which is easily understood by everyone, is the damage caused to the teeth. This damage is mostly on the enamel, which gets worn away, leaving the dentin exposed.

Once the dentin is exposed, teeth can become extremely sensitive. You will notice this when partaking in cold food and drinks.

Other types of wear, which you will notice, is pain once abfraction occurs. This is when notches are formed around the neck of teeth at the gum line.

Inflammation of the periodontal ligament of the teeth will cause pain too. Pain when biting will make it difficult to chew.

Some loosening of the teeth may also occur.

When one grinds their teeth often, the body adapts to try to counter the effects this causes. One of these adaptations is hypertrophy of the mastication muscles.

This may sound complicated, but it simply means the muscles that move the jaw will increase in size. In particular, the masseter muscle will increase most significantly.

Another serious development is trismus, where it becomes difficult to open one’s mouth.

Toothache from grinding teeth is not the only concern; toothache from clenching is also an issue. Clenching will put pressure on the temporalis muscle, causing headaches when the temples become painful.

How Do The Muscles Around The Jaw Work?

During mastication or chewing, many muscles are involved in the process, along with a lot of neurotransmissions.

The temporalis, masseter, medial, and lateral pterygoid muscles are paired on either side of the jaw. They coordinate to move the mandible.

These muscles work to close the mouth and move side to side during chewing.

Chewing is actually a complicated process. The movements can be either conscious or controlled by subconscious processes.

Under normal circumstances, during wakefulness, the jaw is at rest. The teeth are not in contact unless when chewing, swallowing, or speaking.

When not in use, the teeth should not be in contact for more than 30 minutes. During sleep, the muscles are inactive due to physiological motor paralysis.

In other words, the jaw is open.

So why does it hurt when I grind my teeth?

When you grind your teeth, the muscles contract. Toothache from jaw clenching is caused by these muscles contracting.

The contractions include short clenching rhythmic movements with bite force pulses of tenths of a second.

Some pulses can last as long as 30 seconds.

Types Of Bruxism

Toothache from bruxism unfortunately go hand in hand.

There are two types of teeth grinding.

  1. Awake bruxism
  2. Sleep bruxism

Awake bruxism is also known as “diurnal bruxism”, or “daytime bruxing”.

Sleep bruxism is sometimes called “nocturnal bruxism”, “nocturnal tooth grinding” or “sleep-related bruxism”.

These two types are not related in any way. They will affect the teeth in similar ways, but their causes are not the same.

Awake Bruxism

This type of teeth grinding is less common among adults. Some studies suggest that awake bruxism if found in adults, is more common in women.

What is certain is that awake bruxism is easier to identify and treat. It is believed to be involuntary to a greater extent.

Some linked factors include:

  • anxiety
  • stress
  • anger
  • frustration
  • tension

Awake bruxism is usually associated with stress from day-to-day activities and pressures from work. It is also attributed to poor mental health or intense concentration.

Symptoms and habits can include:

  • cheek biting
  • nail biting
  • chewing on a pencil
  • tongue thrusting

Sleep Bruxism

Sleep bruxism is the grinding of the teeth during sleep without waking up or being aware of it taking place.

Factors causing one to grind their teeth at night are totally different from those attributed to awake bruxism.

Nocturnal bruxism is complicated, and it is difficult to understand why it happens.

Researchers have primarily attributed it to abnormalities in neurotransmissions. Stress is not ruled out as the main cause.

Current research suggests that grinding in your sleep is linked to neurotransmitter abnormalities and the central nervous system.

Though nervous system variations may be the cause, stress remains the number one cause of tooth grinding.

Can grinding teeth at night cause toothache pain? Yes – most definitely.

Sleep grinding is usually caused by rhythmic masticatory muscle activity which assumes a suitable frequency.

Recent studies have suggested that more than 80% of episodes occur during periods of sleep arousal. Research sleep arousal, which was experimentally induced, was found to trigger episodes.

Sleep arousal changes the depth of the sleep stage and increases:

  • heart rate
  • respiratory changes
  • muscular activity

Sleep bruxism has been known to be accompanied by:

  • gastroesophageal reflux
  • decreased oesophageal acidity
  • swallowing
  • decreased salivary flow

Who Are At Risk Of Sleep Bruxism?

Smokers are more prone to sleep bruxism. A disturbance of the dopaminergic system in the central nervous system is the culprit.

Substances that alter dopamine release have an effect on bruxing activity. These include levodopa, amphetamines, and nicotine.

Nicotine stimulates the release of dopamine. This is why smokers will experience more bruxism than non-smokers.

Smokers may may experience higher levels of toothache from grinding teeth as nicotine starts tooth decay faster than for non-smokers. Good tooth maintenance is highly recommended for smokers who grind or clench teeth.

Recent studies have found that stress is less linked to sleep grinding. People aged around 50 suffering from this are more likely to be single and have a higher level of education.

Personal traits can also be linked to bruxism. Some people are naturally more aggressive, and these people have higher chances of developing the problem.

Some are naturally more competitive, while others are hyperactive. Some researchers suggest that suppression and frustration can be exhibited as bruxism.

Animal studies suggest that grinding teeth is linked to psychosocial factors. Meaning what happens around a person or what they see and feel has a co-relation.

Teeth Grinding In Children

Sleep bruxism is also suspected to be inherited genetically.

About 50% of people exhibiting this type having a direct family member who also had the issue.

No genetic markers have yet been identified to support this hypothesis. But children of people who have sleep bruxism are more likely to develop it than children of those who do not.

Awake bruxism is less likely to be exhibited in children with parents suffering from it.

Teeth grinding is very common in children under five years, especially at night. Every child is different though.

When a child grinds teeth during sleep some clench their teeth very lightly. Some, however, can grind their teeth so loud it causes distress and worries to the parents.

Some children will continue to grind teeth up to adolescence. While a smaller portion will continue grinding their teeth into adulthood.

It is very important that adolescent children exhibiting bruxism get help as soon as possible. You want to stop them grinding before they enter adulthood.

Teeth Grinding In Children Is Classified Into Two Categories

Namely primary bruxism and secondary bruxism.

Primary Bruxism

Primary bruxism is natural, with no causes attributed to it, and there is no need to worry about it.

Secondary Bruxism

Secondary bruxism is associated with disorders like anxiety and depression.

Other factors involve drugs and diseases like Parkinson’s and respiratory diseases like Apnoea or Apnea.

To treat this type of grinding, you need to treat the conditions causing it.

Teeth grinding in children usually stops on its own as they grow up. This is usually around the period when they lose their primary teeth.

Other Reasons For Child Bruxism

Children will experience bruxism and the subsequent teeth pain from grinding because of various factors.

These include poor alignment of the top and bottom teeth or would have started as a response to teething.

Teething has some degree of pain. Children might grind their teeth as a way to ease that pain.

Children may also grind their teeth as a response to other anomalies. These include:

  • digestive diseases
  • malnutrition
  • allergies
  • endocrine disorders
  • parasitic diseases

Some children grind their teeth because their teeth are crowded, or there is insufficient contact between them.

Other habits like nail-biting and pencil chewing can make any child develop grinding of teeth. Sometimes these are a pointer that the child actually has the impulse.

Hyperactive children are also known to suffer from grinding. They and should be kept away from caffeine-containing foods like coffee.

Children with mental retardation and cerebral palsy are at a higher risk of developing teeth grinding.

Parents should not offer the child excessive attention. This is also known to cause bruxism.

Children can also exhibit tooth grinding as a result of stress caused by witnessing siblings or parents argue or fight.

Symptoms Of Teeth Grinding In Infants

Symptoms of bruxism in children will only be noticed when they become severe bruxers. Child symptoms are very similar to those seen in adults.

These include:

  • headaches
  • toothaches
  • tooth mobility
  • gingival recession
  • general pain in cheeks
  • pain while chewing

among others.

How To Stop Teeth Grinding In Children

Like any other child disease, it is very difficult to decide how to counter bruxism in children. Mainly because they cannot give a detailed account of what they are going through.

The best thing you can do to reduce grinding in a child as a caregiver or a parent is to reduce stress levels in children by any means possible.

Make sure they trust you enough to open up. Additionally, lower the anxiety levels.

Do this by massaging your child. This will relax the muscles in their body, including the jaw muscles.

Read them a bedtime story as this will let them fall asleep with relaxed muscles.

Giving them plenty of water before sleeping also helps

If you have young children in the home, try not to listen to heavy music but instead listen to light and soft music.

Do not allow children to chew gum and try by all means to prevent them from chewing their pencils.

Examine the teeth of your child regularly and take them to the pediatric dentist if need be.

Another not so ethical method is to let the child bite onto an apple before sleeping. This will fatigue the jaws and hence prevent involuntary clenching at night.

Symptoms of Teeth Grinding In Adults

Do you experience toothache from grinding teeth? The pain may not be the only result of grinding your teeth.

Most people do not notice the symptoms of bruxism, but they are always there. They include:

  • flattened teeth
  • fractured and loose teeth
  • worn tooth enamel
  • increased tooth sensitivity, especially to cold drinks
  • tired and painful jaws
  • locked jaws
  • neck and face pain
  • headache with the temples as the epicenter
  • difficulty in chewing
  • sleep disruption

The consequences may include, among others, damage to teeth and loud clenching noises at night, which might cause irritation to people in the vicinity.

How To Relieve Tooth Pain From Teeth Grinding

Treatment is usually focused on undoing the damage that would have already occurred to the teeth and preventing further damage.

But the treatment is very complex and complicated as there is no one cause for it.

Crowns And Fillings

People exhibiting severe bruxism cannot have their teeth restored permanently using crowns or fillings. These will get damaged again in very little time.

Dental Guards

Dental guards are the most common treatment most dentists go with.

These can be used both day and nightguard to protect your teeth. It is a plastic molded sheath that fits over your top teeth.

By wearing it most of the force created by grinding or clenching will be transferred to the teeth guard and not the teeth.

You will notice deep grooves eventually forming in the guard from the force of your grinding.

Occlusal Splints

Occlusal splints do a great job in preventing the mechanical damage associated with grinding. But these do not reduce the bruxing itself.

Occlusal splints are divided into partial or full coverage splints depending on the level of bruxism. They are usually made of plastic but can be either soft or hard.

Most people prefer lower splints as they are said to be more comfortable.

Reduce Stress And Anxiety

Sometimes the best treatment is dealing with the factors that might be causing it. Do this by reducing stress levels and anxiety.

Medication used to treat bruxism include:

  • benzodiazepines
  • anticonvulsants
  • beta-blockers
  • dopamine agents
  • antidepressants
  • muscle relaxants

amongst others, depending on your doctor.

What You Can Do To Stop Grinding Teeth

As bruxism is largely attributed to stress and anxiety, the first step to treatment is to reduce these. This can be achieved by taking up several stress reduction techniques like:

  1. Yoga
  2. Meditation
  3. Exercise
  4. Consult a professional therapist

One can also get a biofeedback device. It is used to alter physiological activity to improve the level of awareness of the individual.

Toothache from grinding teeth can be managed. This is done be either by controlling the grinding reflex or using aides to protect your teeth from the impact of the grinding forces.


  • Can grinding teeth cause a toothache?

    Yes, grinding can cause tooth pain. This is caused by pressures applied on the teeth and jaw that manifest as aches and pains in the face, neck, and jaw. Bruxism also damages teeth in several ways thereby creating toothache.

  • What does pain from grinding teeth feel like?

    Tooth grinding pain may range from a dull ache when you get up and last a short while or it may be a sharp, intermittent excruciating pain that can last a few several hours. Jaw pain with stiffness as well as sore gums may be felt. It all depends on how severe the bruxism is.

  • Why do people grind their teeth in their sleep?

    There are several reasons for sleep bruxism – stress and anxiety, an abnormal bite, misaligned teeth, or a disorder like sleep apnea. Diagnosing the reason will help with treatment.

  • Can bruxism be cured?

    It can be greatly alleviated if not cured completely. The cure is elusive but the correct treatment for the reason behind it may relieve the symptoms by decreasing the frequency and severity of the grinding.

  • What causes a child to grind their teeth while sleeping?

    Most children will grind their teeth during teething as a result of teething pain, another reason may be earache or because their teeth are not aligned properly and create an overbite.

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