Teeth Grinding

What Is the Difference Between Teeth Clenching and Teeth Grinding?

night guard for tongue biting

Clenching the teeth and teeth grinding are often caused by the same problem

Checked and updated for accuracy on 02/02/23

Jaw clenching and teeth grinding are both common manifestations of a condition known as “bruxism”. Bruxism often occurs unconsciously, and can happen both while you’re awake or asleep.

During sleep, tooth-on-tooth grinding is more common than jaw clenching and occurs in 8% of adults. During the day, teeth clenching is more common than grinding. Both actions can have serious consequences if the teeth are left unprotected.

Damages caused by both types of bruxism include damage to the teeth and jaw, as well as facial muscle strain

Bruxism usually takes place subconsciously, and most people don’t realize they’re doing it, even while they’re awake. Jaw clenching and grinding are not mutually exclusive and can occur together in some patients. The causes of bruxism can vary depending on whether it occurs during the day or at night.

Daytime Bruxism Versus Sleep Bruxism

Stress is still the primary reason most dentists and researchers believe people present with jaw clenching and teeth grinding. However, some current medical research suggests that a clenched jaw and teeth grinding during sleep may have a different set of causes than waking bruxism.

Daytime bruxism is generally associated with stress and/or stimulants


Stimulants, like caffeine, ephedrine, or ADHD medication, can also aggravate bruxism. As many as 20% of the U.S. adult population grind their teeth or clench their jaw when they’re awake and it almost always correlates with high stress levels. A demanding job, financial problems, or serious mood disorders like Panic Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder can be responsible for it. When the psychological effects of anxiety or stress are addressed and treated, the grinding or clenching will often subside.

Sleeping bruxism may be more enigmatic.

Sleeping bruxism is commonly associated with teeth grinding (though jaw clenching can occur either in place of grinding or in conjunction with it). This paranormal activity results from rhythmic jaw motions that reflect a “misfiring” of motions associated with chewing food.

Teeth grinding during sleep has been shown to occur during “micro-arousal” when a person moves closer to consciousness during sleep.

Although this rarely causes the person to wake up completely, EEG measurements of brain electrical activity have confirmed these brief changes in the level of consciousness.

Recent research shows that sleeping bruxism is often found in people who also have sleep apnea. This may be a stress response to the drop in blood oxygen levels that occur during episodes of apnea. A sleep test should be considered in people who suffer from bruxism.

What’s the Difference between Jaw Clenching and Teeth Grinding Symptoms?

Most people with bruxism aren’t aware they’re doing it. So, the best way to identify the problem is to consider symptoms. Jaw clenching and teeth grinding are traumatic to the jaw joints, muscles, and teeth, but each may cause different problems.

Grinding your teeth is often revealed by symptoms such as:

  • Excessive wear and tear on teeth. Grinding is harder on teeth than jaw clenching. The mechanical forces involved in repetitive grinding motions often cause pathological changes in the structure of your teeth. The hard outer layer of enamel covering teeth wears away over time. The underlying layer, called dentin, can become exposed and erodes. Teeth can also fracture from the abnormal forces, especially in people with dental fillings.
  • Increased tooth sensitivity. As the enamel and dentin of the teeth are worn down, the nerve endings become more exposed. This can cause tooth pain, especially when drinking cold or hot liquids.

A clenched jaw adds strain to tooth structure, but it can also impact the muscles of the face and jaw. Some of the most common symptoms resulting from clenching the jaw include:

jaw clenching can build up the masseter
Enlargement of the masseter muscle can sometimes be visible in jaw clenchers
  • Tenderness, pain, or fatigue in the jaw muscles. This is especially apparent when chewing. Continuous jaw clenching strains the muscles and causes them to become tired and sore like other muscles in the body. This can make chewing difficult and even painful.
  • Masseter Hypertrophy. This medical term describes the enlargement of the jaw muscles over time. Jaw clenching “works out” the muscles causing their mass to increase. Pronounced jaw muscles can lead to an unwanted “square-jawed” appearance.

Although jaw clenching and teeth grinding are both forms of bruxism, they don’t always occur together. Both can create different sets of symptoms in teeth and the jaw muscles. Clenching is often more common than grinding when the condition is attributed to anxiety or stress. Extra muscle activity can can cause tension headaches. This common form of headache may be relieved with the use of a dental night guard.

What is the best night guard to wear for teeth grinding or jaw clenching?

Looking for the best night guard for teeth grinding? We have discussed several dental night guards types in more depth, but here’s our quick answer:

Custom night guards made specifically from your unique dental anatomy, and fabricated using a high heat/high pressure thermoforming machine, are by far the best night guards available today for clenching teeth.

How to stop clenching the jaw:

If you’re clenching your jaw during the night while sleeping, it’s highly unlikely that you can prevent tightening and clenching of the jaw. Like talking in your sleep, most people don’t realize what they’re doing or how to stop it.
However, you can climb into bed with a more relaxed state of mind with a few simple steps. Here are a few major items to say no to before bed:

  • Alcohol and caffeine.
  • Staring at the screen on your phone, television or video games.

Try this instead

  • Play relaxing music, read a good book, and make your bed a comfortable, clean place.
  • Practice relaxing your facial muscles with deep breathing.
  • Wear your dental night guard

Not sure which night guard to choose? Find your fit by taking our free 60 sec. quiz!

which night guard is right for you

What happens if I don’t wear a night guard?

Grinding seems harmless at first. But its continual occurrence can damage your dental health and cause not only pain but expensive dental repairs. The first signs usually include a sensation of pain on one side of the jaw or general teeth soreness. Grinding can also be a bother to your sleeping partner.

Sore jaws and constant headaches can be tell-tale signs.

Loved ones might inform you of symptoms as it usually occurs during sleep. Your partner might inform you of symptoms that they lay awake and hear while you sleep. Grinding can cause fracturing and loosening of teeth. But night guards are used as a common preventative solution that can save you expense, pain, and time.

Dental night guards DO NOT stop teeth grinding, but they protect the teeth from damage and reduce unnecessary pain. These custom made guards are protective devices that work by preventing the upper teeth from grinding with the lower set.

There are many types of night guards available but choosing the best night guard is paramount to your health and comfort. Let’s first go over the not-so-great: Stock mouth guards and boil and bites.

Drug Store Night Guards

These mass-produced night guards are very affordable but they’re often uncomfortable and don’t fit well.

A large variety of mouth guards can be purchased from drug stores. These guards are preformed and made to a universal fit. It is impossible to find a perfect match for your specific dental pattern with this type of guard.

They are made of polyvinyl, plastic or rubber material. Even worse – with most store-bought guards, you have to close the jaw to hold them in, which makes it hard to talk or breathe and increases the likelihood of gagging on them. They have a reputation for being bulky and uncomfortable.

Which makes them one of the worst solutions for clenching teeth and teeth grinding issues.A variety of mouth guards can be purchased from drug stores. These guards are preformed and made to a universal fit. It’s impossible to find a perfect match for your specific anatomy with this type of guard. They are made of polyvinyl, plastic, or rubber material.

Worse, most store-bought guards don’t fit well and you have to close the jaw to hold them in. This aggravation makes it hard to talk or breathe and increases the likelihood of gagging on them. These appliances are often bulky and uncomfortable and end up being one of the worst solutions for clenching teeth and teeth grinding issues.

Boil and Bite Night Guards

The boil & bite night guards are made of a thermoplastic material that responds to heat.

First you place the appliance in hot water so that the thermoplastic softens. Then you shape it around your teeth using pressure from the tongue and First, you place the appliance in hot water to soften the thermoplastic.

Then, you shape it around your teeth using pressure from the tongue and clean fingers. Finally, when the plastic cools it hardens again leaving you with a closer fit to your teeth. This design is better than off-the-shelf night guards, but the material is not very durable. It’s easy to grind through the guard, and it’s still bulky and uncomfortable. If you are grinding through the guard at night you are most likely ingesting the thermoplastic the guards are made of, too.

Custom Made Night Guards

These cost more than a store bought guard because they are the toptier in mouth protection.

A dentist first makes an impression of your teeth on a special material. The These cost more than a store-bought guard because they are the top-tier choice in mouth protection.
A dentist first makes an impression of your teeth with a special material. The impression is used to create a custom-fitting night guard that is unique to the individual. This is done at a professional lab, dentist, or certified lab technician.

Why should I choose a custom made night guard?

Since they are specifically suited for your teeth, they offer the best protection with no risk of gagging. The most common problem with these types of guards is that they can feel either too tight or too bulky. A reputable dental lab will work patiently with you until you get a perfect fit. All that is required of you is patience on your end, and the end product will make your life easier, better and healthier.

Because of the time and effort taken to customize this guard, it is more expensive than the others – but the benefits outweigh the costs.

Do-it-yourself teeth molding kit & online dental labs

dental impression kit for night guard to reduce clenching teeth, jaw, and grinding

You can purchase the best custom-made dental night guards directly from our night guard lab. Use our easy mail order system to take your dental impression without ever having to leave the comfort of your home!

If not dealt with, bruxism can cost a fortune in repairs at the dentist. It is much easier to save yourself the trouble by choosing the best night guard to alleviate this disorder. When choosing a night guard, you should look for durability, ease of cleaning, comfort, safe materials, and one that does not impede breathing or talking.

Do you bite your tongue or gums in your sleep?

Tongue biting or cheek biting can cause a lot of irritation and damage to those sensitive areas. Worse, once you’ve already started abnormal biting it can grow into a painful habit. The solution to fend off any further harm to the muscular tongue and surrounding tissue is to wear tailor-made night guards on both the upper and lower teeth.

I’m Clenching My Teeth During The Day. Do I Need A Night Guard?

You should first get a clear understanding of two things: What is a mouth guard for teeth grinding, and what is its purpose? A mouth guard for teeth grinding (also known as a night guard) is an oral appliance for the purpose of treating protecting the teeth as well as preventing dental problems. As the name suggests, a night guard is a mouth guard that is worn during sleep. However, a night guard can be worn for daytime use, too. Usually a thin, unobtrusive, 1mm night guard would be worn during the day.

A custom night guard is custom-fitted to its user. Commonly made from a hard or soft durable plastic, a night guard can act as a shock absorber for the muscles in the jaw and the face. This is important since tension in the muscles of the jaw and face can cause additional serious health problems and reduce pain. Constant teeth grinding and clenching teeth can also cause chipping and cracking of the teeth, which means more dental treatment.

If I clench my teeth during the day, does it also mean I’m clenching my teeth at night?

If you’re clenching your teeth during the day, there’s a good chance you’re also clenching and grinding your teeth during sleep. The signs are not always obvious, even to someone sleeping right next to you. If you are already suffering from symptoms such as constant headaches and facial tenderness, then those symptoms are more likely the result of bruxism. Wearing a night guard is one trusted solution.

You can wear a day guard

ultra thin day guard for teeth grinding

If you feel teeth or facial soreness from grinding or clenching teeth during the day, consider wearing a very thin, hard 1mm guard. This will protect your teeth while remaining inconspicuous. An ultra-thin clear guard is generally of a hard splint material and should be custom-made from a dental impression of your teeth for the ultimate fit.

It’s never wise to self-diagnose.

If you suspect that you are suffering from bruxism then you should visit your dentist immediately. Only a trained professional has the expertise to properly diagnose your condition. The best mouth guards are custom-fitted from a dental impression of your teeth. A custom-fitted mouth guard offers the utmost protection and comfort for those with teeth clenching issues. Generic mouth guards will not fit as well or as comfortably as a custom-fitted mouth guard.


sentinel mouthguards author
Ashely Notarmaso

Ashely Notarmaso is the author behind the Sentinel Mouth Guard Blog. She is the CEO and founder of Sentinel Mouth Guards (Founded in 2012) Her long-time work in the dental mouth guard arena and her excellent ability to listen to customer concerns in this often contradictory field has laid the groundwork to explore night guard/mouth guard fabrication in-depth and address real concerns. With the help of her team, she has created a unique fabrication method that promises a great fitting custom oral appliance every time. Amazon’s choice for #1 mouth guard! Visit the online store http://sentinelmouthguards.com

Verified By

medically verified by dr greg grillo dds
Dr. Greg Grillo

University of Washington School of Dentistry

Dr. Greg Grillo is a 1995 University of Washington School of Dentistry graduate practicing in North Central Washington. He’s now the senior partner of Grillo Robeck Dental, an innovative practice blending technology with exceptional staffing to provide relationship-based healthcare. Dr. Grillo has consulted with hundreds of dental manufacturers, marketing agencies, and practices as an expert in many facets of dentistry.