If you’re waking up with both an aching jaw and a ringing in your ears, it might be because you’re grinding your teeth in your sleep.
Grinding, gnashing, or clenching your teeth – called bruxism – is common among people of all ages and genders. Many people don’t even realize they’re grinding their teeth until a dentist comments that their teeth appear worn down or damaged. Others experience an aching or clicking jaw. In some cases, grinding your teeth can lead to headaches or even tinnitus.
Signs Of Teeth Grinding And Clenching
If you catch yourself clenching your teeth during the day, pay attention to your surroundings and habits. Stressful situations are notorious for triggering a bout of bruxism. Managing your response to these kinds of situations are key to lessening teeth clenching.
"Treble Health helped me reduce my tinnitus by about 80%, and now I can live my life again!"
"Treble Health helped me reduce my tinnitus by about 80%, and now I can live my life again!"
– Steve D.
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More commonly, you might be grinding your teeth at night, even if you don’t realize it. Grinding your teeth can be quite loud, but you might not hear it in your sleep. In fact, your sleep partner might notice it before you do.
Other signs of grinding teeth include:
- Excessive wear or damage to your teeth
- Cracks on the outer layer of your teeth
- Bites or indentations on your cheeks or tongue
- Tooth sensitivity without an obvious cause
- Crooked teeth or a change in your bite pattern
- Facial or jaw pain, especially around the cheeks or temples
- Neck or shoulder pain
- Waking up with headaches
- Unexplained earaches or tinnitus
Bruxism can be very painful because the temporomandibular joint is unusually stressed. In fact, this study showed that sustained jaw clenching is the most damaging activity for the disc in your jaw joint. This stress overloads the joint and can lead to severe tissue damage. During teeth grinding and clenching, your jaw moves in a parallel motion instead of its natural up and down. This shearing motion causes stress on the joint and can even damage the cartilage and disc, leading to temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD).
Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMD)
If your teeth grinding is causing significant or persistent pain, it could damage the joint in your jaw, called the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This could eventually lead to temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) that can affect your nerves, bones, or cartilage. Watch out for:
- Pain in the chewing muscles and/or joint that control jaw movement
- Pain that spreads to the face or neck
- Jaw stiffness, limited motion, awkward bite, or locking of the jaw
- Painful clicking, popping, or grating when you open or close your mouth
TMD may include myofascial pain or discomfort or dislocated or displaced jaw disc. In women especially, the condyle (bony end of the joint) may degenerate or become altered by the stress and pressure of bruxism. All of these conditions can worsen or trigger tinnitus. In fact, some people experience vertigo from TMJ inflammation because it may impact the inner ear, which is important to your sense of balance.
If you’re concerned about developing temporomandibular joint disorder due to bruxism, speak with your dentist or physician about treatment options.
Causes Of Teeth Grinding
The occasional clenched jaw is unlikely to lead to tinnitus or significant jaw problems. Most of us grind or clench our teeth during a stressful or strenuous event and many of us experience mild bruxism in our sleep. However, if grinding, clenching, or gnashing becomes a habit that impacts your health, you may wish to talk to your doctor.
Typically, people with persistent bruxism grind their teeth while they’re sleeping. It’s not always clear why this is the case, but teeth grinding is often linked to:
- Stress and anxiety
- Sleep problems like snoring or nightmares
- Certain medications like antidepressants
- Smoking, drinking alcohol, drug use, or excessive caffeine
Nocturnal bruxism is considered a sleep-related disorder and may be linked to other sleep problems.
In the daytime, teeth grinding is typically caused by stress, medications, or even just deep concentration. Anger, frustration, fear, pain, or other strong emotional responses can cause you to clench your jaw, too.
Bruxism is also very common in children, especially those who have loose baby teeth. In this case, teeth grinding usually stops when adult teeth have all come in.
Is Teeth Grinding Related To Tinnitus?
Tinnitus – the perception of sound when there is no external source – is often described as a buzzing, humming, chirping, or ringing in one or both ears. For some people, tinnitus is mild or temporary, but for others it can be severe and disruptive to daily life. It’s often caused by hearing loss, injury, infection, or loud noise exposure. But sometimes it’s linked to jaw or dental problems.
If you’re grinding your teeth, you’re putting extra pressure on your temporomandibular joint. This joint is very close to your ear canal, middle ear, and inner ear. TMJ stress, strain, or swelling can cause inflammation in and around your ear, which can irritate your auditory nerve, triggering tinnitus.
Studies About The Relationship Between Tinnitus and Bruxism
Tinnitus and bruxism are both common health conditions, and researchers have established significant links between the two.
One study showed that people who grind their teeth at night are more likely to experience tinnitus. The study also showed that bruxism leads to facial pain or difficulty using jaw muscles. Many people in this study also experienced depression. The exact cause of this depression is unknown, but research shows tinnitus often leads to anxiety or other emotional distress. Bruxism can disrupt your sleep, which also affects mood.
Another study into the link between tinnitus and bruxism showed that people with tinnitus seemed to suffer from myofascial and TMJ pain more than others. 60% of people with tinnitus in this study had symptoms of TMD, whereas people without tinnitus had TMD symptoms only 36% of the time. This study recommends that doctors check for TMD when diagnosing or treating tinnitus.
So, can you treat bruxism? The answer is yes – managing stress and promoting good sleep habits are key to minimizing teeth grinding. For some people, using relaxation techniques and getting into a healthy sleep routine may be enough to stop the grinding and help reduce tinnitus.
An oral appliance (night guard) can help maintain jaw posture, muscle function, and support temporomandibular joint stability. It won’t stop you from grinding, but it can prevent further damage to your jaw and teeth.
Your doctor may also recommend:
- Over-the-counter or prescription medications. Muscle relaxers, painkillers, Botox, or other medications may help.
- Eating softer foods that are easier to chew. Avoiding sticky or very crunchy foods that take a lot of effort to bite will ease the strain on your jaw joint.
- Minimizing habits like gum chewing or nail biting. This will help ease the strain on your jaw muscles and help break the habit of forceful biting and clenching.
- Physical therapy. Massage or facial exercises can help relax and strengthen your muscles.
- Applying heat or cold to your face and jaw area. This can take down inflammation and swelling. It’s also a good way to relax tense muscles.
- Reducing alcohol and caffeine. Caffeinated drinks can increase your stress level, and alcohol tends to increase the force of your teeth grinding, especially closer to bedtime.
Treatments For Tinnitus
Tinnitus, whether it’s caused by bruxism, hearing changes, or other factors, affects most of us at some point in our lives. For about 10-20% of the population, it’s persistent and bothersome. Tinnitus typically isn’t harmful or painful, but it can disrupt your sleep and mental wellness.
Many causes of tinnitus – like fluid in the ear, excessive ear wax, or even allergies – can be treated fairly easily by your physician. Other causes, like hearing loss, head injuries, or loud noise exposure may require more long-term management.
If you’ve treated known conditions that can contribute to tinnitus but your symptoms don’t go away, your doctor or audiologist may recommend:
- Hearing aids or tinnitus maskers. These devices can assist your hearing and turn down tinnitus.
- Counseling. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you manage your response to tinnitus and improve your stress levels. The audiologists at Treble Health combine cognitive behavioral techniques with tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) to target tinnitus.
- Fitness and lifestyle changes. Staying active and healthy is important to every part of your body – including your ears.
There are a wide range of ways you can manage tinnitus, even if there doesn’t seem to be any underlying cause. Talk to the audiologists at Treble Health to explore your tinnitus management options and find relief.
Understanding Underlying Causes Can Help Treat Both Bruxism And Tinnitus
Tinnitus and bruxism share many of the same causes – stress, sleep problems, and certain medications can trigger one or both conditions. Treating these root causes can help minimize both tinnitus and teeth grinding.
Even without pre-existing hearing problems, grinding your teeth can set off a domino effect that eventually triggers bothersome tinnitus. The strain on the bones and muscles in your jaw can affect the tissues in your ears, leading to a ringing in your ears.
If you notice you’re grinding your teeth or are concerned about its impact on your hearing, talk to your dentist or doctor about how you can protect your jaw.