Genomics and Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)

It never fails to amaze me how many of our quirks and traits have a genetic basis. Bruxism, or grinding your teeth, actually has a genetic component to it.

This article digs into the research on which genes are linked to bruxism, and explains how knowing the genetic mechanism can lead to solutions.

Bruxism, genes, and serotonin:

Bruxism is a condition where you unconsciously clench or grind your teeth. This can occur when sleeping (sleep bruxism) or while you are awake.

Bruxism can cause wear on the enamel of the teeth and even cause teeth to crack. Additionally, people with bruxism may have jaw pain, headaches, migraines, or sleep disorders.[ref]

Physical causes of bruxism, like crooked or missing teeth, can be addressed by your dentist.

But why do some people have the innate urge to clench their teeth to the point of pain or shearing down the enamel?

Genomics studies point to the serotonin system as one strong cause. People with genetic variants in a serotonin receptor are at an increased risk for bruxism.[ref]

What does serotonin do?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter found in the brain as well as the gut. In the brain, serotonin is important for mood, memory, and cognition.

Anxiety has long been linked to teeth grinding, and, indeed, research studies bear out that people with anxiety are more likely to have bruxism.[ref]

Coming back to genetics…
Both serotonin receptors and dopamine receptor variants have been linked to an increased risk for bruxism. Variants in these genes also increase the risk of anxiety and neuroticism. Research shows that people with bruxism are much more likely to have relatives with bruxism, indicating that there is a genetic component to it.[ref]


Genetic variants linked to grinding your teeth:

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HTR2A gene: encodes a serotonin receptor

Check your genetic data for rs2770304 (23andMe v4; AncestryDNA)

  • C/C: 2X increased risk of bruxism (teeth grinding)[ref]
  • C/T: increased risk of bruxism
  • T/T: typical

Members: Your genotype for rs2770304 is .

Check your genetic data for rs6313 (23andMe v4, v5; AncestryDNA):

    • A/A: 4X increased risk of bruxism[ref][ref]
    • A/G: increased risk of bruxism
    • G/G: typical risk of bruxism

Members: Your genotype for rs6313 is .

DRD1 gene: codes for a dopamine receptor

Check your genetic data for rs686 (23andMe v4, v5; AncestryDNA):

    • A/A: typical
    • A/G: typical risk of bruxism
    • G/G: increased risk of bruxism[ref]

Members: Your genotype for rs686 is .


Now that you know that the serotonergic system is involved in bruxism, how can you use this information? Here are some suggestions:

If you are grinding your teeth and have these variants, you may want to learn more about your serotonin genes.

For some people, SSRIs, such as fluoxetine, sertraline, and venlafaxine, increase the risk of bruxism. Talk with your doctor, if you are on a SSRI and grinding your teeth. Clinical trials show that anti-anxiety drugs can reduce bruxism caused by depression drugs.[ref][ref][ref][ref]  (Alternatively, rather than adding another medication, you could talk with your doctor about SSRI alternatives and learn more about root causes of depression.)

Nightguards, which are plastic mouth guards that you wear while sleeping,  are readily available if you have sleep bruxism. You can get them at a drug store or from your dentist.

Relaxation methods such as massage, physiotherapy, or meditation may help.[ref]

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About the Author:
Debbie Moon is the founder of Genetic Lifehacks. Fascinated by the connections between genes, diet, and health, her goal is to help you understand how to apply genetics to your diet and lifestyle decisions. Debbie has a BS in engineering and an MSc in biological sciences from Clemson University. Debbie combines an engineering mindset with a biological systems approach to help you understand how genetic differences impact your optimal health.