The Relationship Between Anxiety & Teeth Grinding

The Relationship Between Anxiety & Teeth Grinding

Have you ever woken up to a sore jaw or a headache, wondering why your teeth hurt? The cause may be the teeth grinding. On the other hand, anxiety is a common experience affecting many people worldwide. While it can manifest in various ways, one common-known symptom of anxiety is teeth grinding. The relationship between anxiety and teeth grinding is complex and multifaceted, with anxiety being both a cause and consequence of this condition. Whether you are struggling with anxiety, bruxism, or both, understanding the connection between the two can help you take steps toward finding relief and improving your oral health.

This post will explore the relationship between anxiety and teeth grinding, examining the causes and effects of this condition and discussing ways to manage and alleviate its symptoms.

The Relationship Between Anxiety & Bruxism (teeth grinding)

Bruxism is a condition that involves the habitual grinding, clenching, or gnashing of teeth, typically occurring during sleep, but can also occur during the day, i.e., clenching teeth while awake. It affects up to 20% of adults and can cause various dental and health problems.

Causes of teeth grinding:

The exact cause of bruxism is poorly understood but considered multifactorial. Some of the potential reasons include the following:

  1. Stress and anxiety
  2. Abnormal bite
  3. Use of alcohol
  4. Smoking or tobacco consumption
  5. Sleeping disorders such as sleep apnea

What are the symptoms of bruxism? The symptoms of bruxism can vary from person to person, but some of the most common ones include the following:

  • Headaches, especially in the morning
  • Tooth sensitivity and even damage to the enamel
  • Tooth fracture
  • Earaches, as the jaw muscles are located close to the ears
  • TMJ disorders

How Stress And Anxiety Related To Teeth Grinding

Teeth grinding is a parafunctional habit that usually occurs during sleep. Stress has been identified as one of the most common risk factors for bruxism. Numerous studies have shown a significant correlation between stress and bruxism.

  • A systematic review published in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation in 2020 analyzed 29 studies and found a positive association between psychological factors such as stress and bruxism.
  • Another study published in the Journal of Sleep Research in 2018 showed that stress was a significant predictor of bruxism in both awake and slept bruxers.

Mechanism: The exact mechanism behind the stress-teeth grinding connection is not fully understood; however, it is believed to involve

  1. The activity of CNS (The fight or flight response)
  2. Genetic predisposition
  3. Poor-quality sleep

Central nervous system:

The main concern is “why does anxiety cause teeth grinding?” it is believed to be related to the activation of the central nervous system. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers the “fight or flight” response in the body, triggering the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can increase muscle tension and activity, including the muscles involved in chewing. This muscle tension may contribute to clenching.

Genetic factor:

Furthermore, specific individuals may have a genetic predisposition to stress-related bruxism. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in 2016, individuals with a family history of bruxism were more likely to experience bruxism during times of stress.

Poor-quality sleep: The mechanism behind sleep-related stress and bruxism link can be explained as follows:

  • During sleep, the body goes through several stages, including rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. NREM sleep is divided into three stages, stage 3 being the deepest and most restorative. It is during this stage that the body repairs and rejuvenates itself.
  • However, if a person’s sleep is interrupted or of poor quality, they may not spend enough time in the deeper stages of NREM sleep, and as a result, their body may not get the rest it needs.
  • This can lead to increased stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can cause various adverse effects on the body, including muscle tension and anxiety. One manifestation of this muscle tension can be bruxism, as the muscles in the jaw and face may become overactive and clench or grind the teeth together during sleep. 

Why Do Some People Clench Their Teeth During the Daytime?

Stress: Many people clench their teeth in response to stress or anxiety. This habit is often unconscious, leading to jaw pain and tension headaches.

Types of stress/anxiety:

Emotional stress:

  • Relationship problems
  • Financial difficulties
  • Work-related stress


  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety
  • Panic disorders


Dental problems: Some people may clench their teeth due to dental issues such as:

  • Missing teeth
  • TMJ disorders
  • Cavities and tooth decay
  • Malocclusion
  • Inflammation and infection of gums
  • Trauma or injury to tooth or jaw

In such cases, clenching can be a subconscious attempt to compensate for the dental issue.

Medications: Certain medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) used to treat depression, and anxiety, can cause teeth clenching as a side effect.

Lifestyle habits: Some habits, such as chewing gum or biting pens or pencils, can lead to teeth clenching during the daytime.

If you suspect you are clenching your teeth during the daytime, you must consult a dentist or doctor to determine the underlying cause and receive appropriate treatment.

Prevention of stress-related bruxism

Prevention is the best treatment for stress-related bruxism. The following tips can help prevent the development of bruxism:

  1. Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga regularly.
  2. Avoid consuming stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine, especially before bedtime.
  3. Avoid alcohol consumption, which can exacerbate the symptoms of bruxism.
  4. Get regular exercise to reduce stress levels and improve sleep quality.
  5. Get enough sleep each night to reduce fatigue and improve overall health.

Ways to manage stress-related bruxism

It is essential to know how to stop clenching jaw from stress. So here are some of the most beneficial and acceptable treatments.

Dental treatments

Mouth guards or Night guards: Night guards are dental appliances designed to be worn over the teeth during sleep.

So, What are the advantages of a custom-made night guard?

  • Night guards can be helpful in the treatment of stress-related bruxism in several ways. First, they provide a physical barrier between the upper and lower teeth, which can help to prevent wear and tear on the tooth surfaces. This can help prevent tooth damage, such as chipping, cracking, or fractures, caused by repeated grinding or clenching of the teeth.
  • Second, night guards can help relieve pressure on the jaw muscles, which can become sore and fatigued due to bruxism. By providing a cushioning effect between the teeth, night guards can reduce the force applied to the jaw muscles during sleep. This can help to reduce muscle tension and pain, which can be a common symptom of bruxism.

Orthodontic treatment: Straightening teeth through orthodontic treatment can sometimes alleviate bruxism by improving the teeth and bite alignment.

Restorative dentistry: In those cases when bruxism has caused significant damage to the teeth, restorative treatments such as Crowns, bridges, or dental implants may be necessary.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy that can help individuals with bruxism identify and change the negative thought patterns and behaviors contributing to their condition. CBT is effective in reducing the severity of bruxism symptoms.


In some cases, medications may be prescribed to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism.

  • Muscle relaxants, such as diazepam, can help relax the jaw muscles and reduce the severity of bruxism.
  • Antidepressants, such as tricyclic antidepressants or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may also be prescribed to reduce stress levels and improve sleep quality.
  • Injecting small amounts of Botulinum toxin into the muscle responsible for grinding can help relax them.

Biofeedback Therapy

Biofeedback therapy is a non-invasive treatment that uses electronic sensors to monitor muscle activity in the jaw and teach the patient how to control their muscle activity. The therapy can be performed in a clinical setting or at home using a biofeedback device. The therapy is effective in reducing bruxism symptoms.

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