Awake bruxism is defined as the awareness of jaw clenching. Its prevalence is reported to be 20% among the adult population. Awake bruxism is mainly associated with nervous tic and reactions to stress. The physiology and pathology of awake bruxism is unknown, although stress and anxiety are considered to be risk factors. During sleep, awareness of tooth grinding (as noted by sleep partner or family members) is reported by 8% of the population. Sleep bruxism is a behaviour that was recently classified as a 'sleep-related movement disorder'. There is limited evidence to support the role of occlusal factors in the aetiology of sleep bruxism. Recent publications suggest that sleep bruxism is secondary to sleep-related micro-arousals (defined by a rise in autonomic cardiac and respiratory activity that tends to be repeated 8-14 times per hour of sleep). The putative roles of hereditary (genetic) factors and of upper airway resistance in the genesis of rhythmic masticatory muscle activity and of sleep bruxism are under investigation. Moreover, rhythmic masticatory muscle activity in sleep bruxism peaks in the minutes before rapid eye movement sleep, which suggests that some mechanism related to sleep stage transitions exerts an influence on the motor neurons that facilitate the onset of sleep bruxism. Finally, it remains to be clarified when bruxism, as a behaviour found in an otherwise healthy population, becomes a disorder, i.e. associated with consequences (e.g. tooth damage, pain and social/marital conflict) requires intervention by a clinician.