How Do I Know If I Grind My Teeth at Night?

Q How do I know if I grind my teeth when I sleep at night?

A This is a great question because most people do grind their teeth unknowingly and the consequences can be detrimental.

Here’s why:

Most experts classify teeth grinding, called bruxism, as a sleep disorder. It can get ugly when grinding begins to cause damage to your chewing muscles, jaw joint, and teeth. Grinding can even cause changes to daily facial expressions. Knowing whether or not you grind at night is a crucial step in preventing disfigurement of your teeth and chronic pain.

But, as you mention, how can you tell if you’re grinding if you’re unconscious while you do it? People who grind their teeth at night usually have no idea that they’re doing it since they’ve been doing so since childhood and because it happens while they’re asleep.

Thankfully, there are ways you can tell. Try looking in the mirror. Do your teeth all appear the same length? It’s the “flatness” of the teeth that gives it away, which comes from being worn down from grinding night after night.

Take a look at Jim Carrey’s teeth above. His teeth appear “flat” and are all the same length.

Looking at your teeth in the mirror is a good first step, but keep in mind that it’s not all about looks.

Do your parents or siblings grind their teeth? Grinding is inheritable.

If you’re a parent wondering if your child is grinding his teeth, have you tried sleeping in the same room as your child for a night? Many parents are shocked after sleeping in the same room as their children to hear the noise their children make as they grind their teeth.

Your partner can also help you figure out whether or not you grind your teeth. I have a patient that always complained about a squeaking noise that he would hear late at night that kept him awake. One day I asked him if his wife had ever complained about hearing the noise and he said that she did not. It occurred to me later that day that she was grinding her teeth and making the squeaking noise. I asked her to come in (up until this point I had never met her) and confirmed that she was a grinder. She now wears a night guard at night and both are sleeping well.

Odds are that you a bruxer, as studies indicate that 70% of the population (or 95% if you ask the American Dental Association) exhibit some kind of bruxing behaviour. If you’re young, keep in mind that you might grind your teeth but experience few or none of these symptoms because you are used to the state of being a grinder. Fetuses exhibit bruxing behavior in utereo. So it may be all you know, and seem perfectly normal. I hope the list below gives you some ideas on how to know if you are grinding at night.

Are You a Grinder? Ask Yourself the Following Questions

Do you have dreams about your teeth either breaking or falling out?

Do you have neck pain?

Do you have facial or jaw pain?

Do you get earaches?

Do you have a clicking sound in your jaw?

Do all of your front teeth look like they’re the same length or appear flat?

Do you have generalized pain in the area below the ears?

Are your parents or siblings grinders?

Does anyone else hear you grinding your teeth at night?

Are any of your teeth loose?

Do you have teeth sensitivity?

Do you have a white line on the inside of your cheek?

Do you wake up in the morning with a dull headache?

Are the edges of your tongue scalloped?

If you experience any of the above, you are probably grinding your teeth. Go see your dentist for help.

Mark Burhenne DDS

  • nancy

    I’m a 60 year old who has been grinding my teeth for years (they are worn but I have no pain in my jaw). I visited a dentist recently for a second opinion and he is recommending that every tooth in my mouth be capped to lengthen them and correct my bite. I do have a ‘popping’ sound in my jaw when I open it very wide. The dentist said it’s because the cartilage in my jaw has worn down because my bite has altered due to my worn teeth. Do you feel a full mouth rebuild is necessary? This would cost $50,000+. Or should I just attend to the teeth that need work (old fillings, etc.) on a piecemeal basis?

  • Marshmallows

    Will grinding your teeth cause the lower muscles of your cheek to become bigger than they’d originally be? I feel that ever since I began grinding my teeth (age 8) the lower part of my face has become proportionatelly wider than the upper part.

  • Yvonne Bozek

    I have had TMJ for as long as I can remember. I just paid spent over $32,000 to correct this problem to a dentist trained in aesthetic dentistry and TMJ treatment. My bottom teeth are now capped and are much longer to open up my bite. It has done absolutely no good at all. I have debilitating headaches every morning and at times, the headache lasts all day. I am at my wits end and don’t know what to do at this point. Anyone have a suggestion?

    • http://askthedentist.com/ Ask the Dentist

      Hi Yvonne, have you been worked up for sleep apnea? That could be the reason you have TMJ and that should have been looked at first because it’s the primary reason why you may have the TMJ — not the fact that your occlusion was bad. Full mouth reconstruction and opening of the vertical dimension often does not fix this and can lead to more problems and many dentists over promise on this subject. Opening the vertical dimension is a very risky thing to do. Feel free to email me at dr.b@askthedentist.com and I’d be happy to provide more advice. I’m sorry you’re in this much discomfort.

      - Dr. B