Any form of teeth grinding, jaw clenching, gnawing, chewing, or mashing movement you do when not eating is a form of bruxism. While it’s completely common for most people to grind their teeth and clench their jaw when stressed, doing it regularly for a long time can lead to a lot of complications, such as receding gums, enamel loss, and pain. Thus, it is extremely important to have this unhealthy habit diagnosed and curbed. Don’t know where to start? Here are some tips on how to stop teeth grinding.
How to know if you have bruxism
Teeth grinding or jaw clenching, better known as bruxism, affects more than 20% of the entire adult population around the world. Despite that, not a lot of people fully understand its far-reaching consequences for dental health. Most people seek professional help after experiencing its effects, which includes nagging facial pain, earaches, headaches, and stiffness in the jaw, especially after waking up in the morning.
Bruxism affects both adults and children, but it is particularly common among 25 to 44-year-olds.
Two types of bruxism
It is important to note that there are two types of bruxism, awake and sleep bruxism. Most people grind their teeth when awake and are not aware of it. It often happens during stressful situations, this is called awake bruxism.
However, if you often grind your teeth while asleep, then there’s a good chance you don’t know you are actually doing it. This is called sleep bruxism.
Symptoms for both types are quite similar. However, if you sleep with a partner, he/she may be able to hear or notice the teeth grinding as you sleep. Since you are likely unaware of the habit, it is essential to know the common signs and symptoms to keep the complications from getting worse.
Here are the signs you need to look out for:
- Chipped, flattened, fractured, or loose teeth
- Worn tooth enamel
- Tooth sensitivity and pain
- Jaw pain
- Tight and tired jaw
- Locked jaw
- Headache, especially around the temple
What causes teeth grinding?
To get the best course of treatment, doctors need to identify what exactly is triggering the teeth clenching habit.
While experts are yet to pinpoint the real cause of bruxism, they believe it may be due to a combination of physical, genetic, and physiological factors.
For awake bruxism for example, it is often linked with anxiety and stress, frustration, anger, or tension. It could also be a coping mechanism or simply a habit when concentrating.
For sleep bruxism, the chewing and jaw clenching may be related to arousals during sleep.
People with an aggressive personality, who are competitive, or hyperactive also have higher risk of teeth clenching.
In many cases, bruxism is caused by medications or as a side effect of using substances. The most common are antidepressants, drinking alcohol, caffeinated drinks, smoking tobacco, and recreational drugs.
People with a family history of bruxism will also likely develop the habit.
Lastly, it could be associated with certain mental and medical conditions, such as dementia, Parkinson’s epilepsy, gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), night terrors, or sleep-related disorders like sleep apnea.
Nighttime mouth guards or Splints
Constant jaw clenching and teeth grinding can wear down the enamel of the tooth, causing it to chip and making it vulnerable to cavities. For this, mouthguards can help, especially for nighttime bruxism.
Custom-fit mouthguards are prescribed by dentists and fit perfectly with the shape of your mouth. When worn, it provides cushion between upper and lower teeth and keeps them from grinding and damaging each other during sleep. They can be made up of soft materials or hard acrylic.
While there are lots of over-the-counter (OTC) mouthguards available, custom-made mouthguards are the best choice as they can be designed perfectly according to your needs, including the size and shape of your mouth, the thickness of the cushioning, etc. They are also far more comfortable than OTC mouthguards.
If you find yourself clenching your teeth while confronting a stressful situation, the first thing you need to do is to relax your face and jaw muscles. Rid your jaw of the tension by rubbing the jaw joint in a circular motion.
You can also try this exercise:
- Open your mouth as wide as you can while touching your front teeth using the tip of your tongue. This motion relaxes your jaw muscles.
- Say the letter “N” out loud. This will keep your upper and lower teeth from touching and help you avoid clenching your jaw.
- There are many tutorials and tips online on how to massage your jaw too. You can try different techniques to find which works best for you.
- You can also get a head-and-neck massage to relieve tension and pain. A massage therapist can give you the best massage.
For extreme cases that lead to wear and tear and tooth sensitivity, dentists may prescribe reshaping of the chewing surfaces of the teeth and using crowns to repair damaged teeth.
As said earlier, stress is the most common cause of teeth grinding. Thus, relaxation techniques can go a long way.
One of the best things you can do is to have better sleep hygiene. This means staying away from electronics that emit blue light before bedtime, no alcohol or caffeine, and having a bedroom more conducive to sleep.
Start your bedtime with a warm bath and apply a warm wet towel (or heating pad) to your jaw to help the muscles relax.
Generally, medications aren’t as effective in treating bruxism per se. However, some doctors prescribe them to help relieve symptoms associated with teeth clenching. Some medications include:
- Muscle relaxants – these may be prescribed before bedtime, but only for a short period of time.
- Botox injection – botox (botulinum toxin) may be beneficial for people who don’t respond well to medications and other treatments.
- Anxiety and stress medications – since anxiety and stress are the major contributory factors for teeth clenching, medications for such conditions (anti-depressant, anti-anxiety) can help relieve stress and emotional problems.
Be more conscious of your clenching
There are no hard and fast rules and one-size-fits-all fix on how to stop teeth grinding. The only one who can stop your teeth grinding is you. Thus, the best thing you can do is to be more mindful of your habit. Practice mindfulness multiple times a day and stay relaxed as much as possible.
When you find yourself starting to feel stressed or are concentrating intently on something, be mindful of your jaw. Drop your jaw and let it hang for a couple of minutes if you notice you are grinding your teeth.