Bruxism Definition and Characterization

Defining Bruxism

Bruxism occurs during sleep.
Bruxism occurs during sleep. andresr/Getty Images

Synonyms: Teeth grinding, Teeth clenching

Medical Specialties: Family practice, Internal medicine, Pediatrics

Clinical Definition: Bruxism is considered a type of movement disorder, which involves the unintentional, or involuntary, act of clenching the jaw or vigorously grinding your teeth, usually during sleep.

In Our Own Words: Bruxism is the medical term for grinding your teeth during sleep or unconsciously during stressful situations.

Grinding involves sliding the teeth back and forth over each other repeatedly; some patients may also clench their jaws tightly.

Continual tooth-grinding may result in eroded gums, loose teeth, and loss of supporting bones in the mouth. Generally, the diagnosis is suspected by observing wear and tear of the teeth during a dental exam. The grinding is not deliberate, and the patient is typically unaware it is occurring, but regular grinding may wear down your teeth and be noisy enough to bother sleeping partners at night.

More Information About Bruxism

As mentioned above, bruxism is the involuntary grinding of the teeth which usually occurs during sleep. This condition affects between 10 and 20 percent of the population, and most people don't even know they have it until a dentist points it out during a dental visit.

Bruxism typically begins at around 17 to 20 years of age, and by the age of 40, it usually disappears.

Bruxism affects men and women in equal numbers.

In most people, forceful grinding of the teeth can result in minor damage to the tops of the teeth. Most people with this condition don't need treatment. However, if the damage is more extensive and severe--for example, affecting the gums or resulting in loss of teeth--a tooth guard can be provided by your dentist.

Furthermore, bruxism can result in jaw and muscle pain, which can compel a person to seek treatment for this condition.

Besides a tooth guard, other treatments for bruxism may include the following:

Stress can play a big role in bruxism, and people who are stressed out can manifest this stress in the form of tooth grinding. Because this condition can be attributable to stress, biofeedback may help some people with this condition. However, because you need to be awake in order to adjust your responses to stress using biofeedback, biofeedback works only for daytime bruxism, which is rarer than nighttime bruxism and happens when you're stressed out.

Biofeedback teaches you to control involuntary aspects of your health such as heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, body, and teeth grinding.

A biofeedback therapist will connect you to electrodes that monitor your involuntary movements and teach you how to change these biomarkers. When biofeedback is used to control involuntary actions that occur when you're awake, a monitor can be used to track your progress. Eventually, you will learn how to control involuntary actions on your own.

Here are the 4 common types of biofeedback:

  • electromyography (EMG), which is used to measure muscle tension;
  • electroencephalography (EEG), or neurofeedback, which is used to measure brainwaves;
  • thermal biofeedback, which measures skin temperature;
  • audio and visual feedback, which is used to monitor daytime bruxism.


Ohio State University. Wexner Medical Center. “Bruxism.” Accessed July 2013.

American Dental Association. “Teeth Grinding.” Accessed July 2013.

University of Maryland Medical Center. “Bruxism: Causes, Incidence and Risk Factors.” Accessed July 2013.

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