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.
Bruxism, genetics, 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 searing down the enamel?
Genetic studies point to the serotonin system as one 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:
HTR2A gene: codes for 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):
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 —.
So what can you do with this information? Logically, if you are grinding your teeth and have these variants, you could look into the serotonin system. (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 this is the case for you. There are anti-anxiety drugs that can reduce bruxism caused by depression drugs.[ref][ref][ref][ref]
Nightguards 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]
Trigger point therapy with ‘perfect spot #7‘ may give temporary relief.
Exercise and bright light in the morning have both been shown in studies to decrease depression and anxiety through modulating serotonin levels.[ref]
Be cautious and read up on serotonin before starting supplements that could affect your neurotransmitter levels. Tryptophan is an amino acid that may increase serotonin, as well as 5-HTP.[ref]
Related Articles and Genes:
Top 10 Genes to Check in Your Genetic Raw Data
These are 10 genes with important variants that can have a big impact on health. So check them out, cross them off your list if you don’t have them — and read the articles to learn more if you do carry the variant.
Tryptophan: Building block for serotonin and melatonin
Tryptophan metabolism influences mood, sleep, neurotransmitters, and immune response.
Circadian Rhythms: Genes at the Core of Our Internal Clocks
Circadian rhythms are the natural biological rhythms that shape our biology. Most people know about the master clock in our brain that keeps us on a wake-sleep cycle over 24 hours. This is driven by our master ‘clock’ genes.