What causes nighttime teeth grinding?

This question was asked in Acequia, Idaho on 06/13/2013.
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and my jaw is completely paralyzed like it's wired shut. I'm awake and I know that I'm grinding my teeth but I can't relax or stop. I don't think I grind my teeth every night but it's been happening more frequently that I've noticed. Why am I grinding my teeth? What's causing it?

Doctors Answers (3)

Susan M. Welch
Answered on: 7/16/2013

Imbalance in the way your teeth contact can be one reason for nighttime grinding, or sleep bruxism. Another could be a "protective" habit to help hold the jaw forward, which can help keep your airway more open. You must first rule out sleep apnea as a potential cause, and from that information an occlusal guard to protect your teeth, muscles, jaw joints and cervical spine can be fabricated. If you have obstrucutive sleep apnea, then a mandibular advancing appliance can bring the jaw forward to open the airway, AND be designed to help protect those other structures, too.

Faryl K. Hart, DDS
Answered on: 6/18/2013

Nighttime grinding or bruxing is usually caused by airway problems. You are literally trying to open up your airway by moving your lower jaw forward. During one sleep phase all of your muscles are paralyzed except for the ones in your head; so that is why you can grind at night and not be able to control or stop it. Snoring or sleep apnea or nasal blockages may be causing grinding.

Timothy J. Delcambre, DDS, MHA
Answered on: 6/17/2013

Teeth grinding can be caused by tooth interference with the bite, a bad muscle habit, stress or a sleep disorder, such as central or obstructive sleep apnea. An evaluation by a dentist can diagnose or rule out possible bite problems or muscle habit patterns. Dental treatment varies as to the cause of the problem. A referral from your primary care physician to a sleep center for a sleep study can diagnose or rule out possible sleep disorders. Again, treatment will vary as to the cause of the problem. What you need to do is find out what is causing the problem. A visit to your dentist and physician is advisable.