Teeth grinding (or bruxism) symptoms are varied and numerous. Basically, they can be split into two different categories – signs and symptoms in the body and signs and symptoms in your daily life. We will look at each category separately. However, both the ‘body’ and ‘life’ signs and symptoms can be experienced together.
Signs and Symptoms of Bruxism in the Body
Audible grinding noises at night – Frequently it will be a partner or parent who becomes aware of teeth grinding symptoms in a family member. They often hear the sound of the teeth as they grind together while the person is asleep. This is sometimes described as a grating or scraping noise. It can be loud enough to waken someone up from sleep, although not usually the sufferer in the early stages.
Appearance of teeth – Another sign can be diagnosed by a basic examination at the dentist. The teeth will have a flat appearance, compared to the normal cusps, concavities and edges present in healthy teeth. Grinding teeth symptoms are also noticeable on the enamel (the hard layer on the surface of your teeth) in the form of scratches, chipping or even cracks.
In the severe cases, all the edges in the teeth have worn out and the teeth have become flat and smooth, much like sheep’s teeth. Granted, a tooth is made out of very hard material, and it takes a long time until the marks are visible. It might be the case that in the early stages it would manifest in other signs such as soreness, pain, tenderness or sensitivity in the jaws and its muscles.
Teeth grinding symptoms are also found around the area where the teeth meet the gum. With teeth grinding, a noticeable groove shape can be seen at this junction. Although it can take a number of years for teeth grinding to produce these effects, often the damage done is permanent.
“Day after” symptoms – Teeth grinding symptoms felt on awakening can often be the first signs that will alert sufferers to their habit. Bruxing during the night can cause you to wake up with headaches, earaches, sore face, jaw tightness or cheek pain caused by the jaw muscles contracting during bruxing. There is often a feeling of tenderness inside the cheek, along with discomfort when putting slight pressure on the facial muscles.
At times, people have had strong pains in their jaws, joints, head, and face muscles and they are completely unaware that the source of these pains is teeth grinding. Some patients have been to a neurologist, visited ear, nose and throat doctors, have not got any solution and still suffer these strong pains. In retrospect, the problem usually turns out to be teeth grinding.
Even if bruxers don’t wake up with a headache, the muscles are already tense and thus every small increase in tension can cause severe headaches.
Professor Ettie Gazit,  has had many patients who were certain they had head cancer. People would walk around for months with horrendous headaches, visit doctors, and were sure they had head or face cancer. The problem is that the chewing muscles are very short and therefore get tired very quickly. The muscles used in closing the jaw (75% of the existing jaw muscles) are stronger than the muscles used in opening the jaw, and that’s how the pain in the muscles is created. There is a disturbance in the regular supply of oxygen to the tissue and thus the side effects would be pains in your temples, strong headaches, pain in the jaw muscles, cheeks and the joint that is located 1cm under your ear.
Migraines – Teeth grinding symptoms can also include not just throbbing headaches but may escalate into migraines. migraines are also caused by the tremendous pressure put on your teeth. This pressure leads to extreme tension in the jaw muscles. This tension then radiates into both the muscles of the neck and head, and becomes the root cause of the migraine headaches.
TMJ and jaw pain – Another issue that can arise in conjunction with bruxism is temporomandibular joint disorder – or TMJ for short. This occurs due to tension and stretching of the muscles around the jaw, causing inflammation and swelling. This will cause pain around the hinge of the jaw, sometimes affecting the ear as well. Some sufferers also experience a popping sound at the joint of the jaw when it is moved. People who experience chronic teeth grinding may undergo loss of hearing in extreme cases.
Sensitive teeth – People who suffer from teeth grinding can also suffer from sensitive teeth. Pain will be felt in particular when eating or drinking anything hot or cold. If your teeth are unusually sensitive to heat and cold, it could be because the enamel on the surface of the teeth has worn away due to bruxing.
Bite damage to inside of cheek – During subconscious bruxism you may bite the insides of your cheeks. Bite marks and scratches will appear on your cheeks and tongue.
Signs and Symptoms of Bruxism in Your Daily Kife
Habits and patterns of behavior – In addition to the physical teeth grinding symptoms, the condition can also impact on your daily life. Habits and patterns of behaviour such as biting nails, chewing the inner surface of the cheek, holding objects such as a pencil in the mouth, as well as teeth grinding are all ways in which the body tries to release stress and tension.
In most cases these actions are subconscious. Therefore damage builds up without the sufferer being aware of it, and that’s why the diagnosis is made too late. People with these habits have turned these actions into an automatic way of mitigating stress and are not aware of the damage created as a consequence.
Lack of sleep – Teeth grinding symptoms can lead to disturbed sleeping patterns, leaving the sufferer tired and groggy the next morning – without realising the cause. Although not fully aware of it, sufferers could be waking during the night either because they can subconsciously hear the noise of grinding or because they are experiencing pain from muscle tension. The constant loss of quality sleep will lead to further health and social complications such as depression, accidents and strained relationships.
Eating disorders and indigestion – When problems due to teeth grinding arise, there may also be a difficulty with chewing and eating food. Pain and discomfort during eating may cause a “bruxer” to miss meals or eat less than usual. If the teeth are sensitive or worn and cannot chew food properly, indigestion may result
Emotional disorders – Anxiety, depression, tension and stress have also been cited as symptoms of bruxism, possibly due to other symptoms such as pain, aches and lack of sleep.
When people experience a number of teeth grinding symptoms together, this will frequently lead to further tension and stress. This can result in serious anxiety disorders and depression, creating a vicious circle of nervousness and pain.
Medical research has shown that people who are depressed are more prone to teeth grinding episodes than other people. This is why it is so important that people with teeth grinding symptoms find the source of their anxiety and stress.
- Bruxism. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved September 10, 2008, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruxism
- Naor, R. (2002). Grinding Your Teeth. In NRG Health Magazine. Retrieved September 25, 2008, from www.nrg.co.il/online/archive/ART/312/383.html [With the kind help of translation services]
- Yahav, R. (2007). Everything About Tooth Grinding. In beOk. Retrieved October 2, 2008, from http://www.beok.co.il/SelectedArticle.aspx?ArticleID=4823 [With the kind help of translation services]
- About Professor Ettie Gazit: http://www.mydoctor-israel.com/dentisteng.htm