Stress. It’s the culprit for everything from overeating to heart disease. But now dental researchers have shown that stress is also believed to be a major cause of teeth grinding and clenching. Previously, a major cause of bruxism was thought to be malocclusion or, the way your teeth fit. But this is not the case any longer. While these cases still do exist, stress has surpassed them all in terms of frequency.
Unfortunately, another cause of teeth grinding that you have no control over is your genes. Chances are, if someone in your family was a teeth grinder you could be too. Additionally, if you are female, you have an even greater chance of suffering from bruxism. Studies show that women are three times more likely to suffer from grinding their teeth than men.
The implications of teeth grinding can be minimal to severe. Waking up with a sore jaw or with your teeth hurting is just one aspect of it. “Grinding your teeth into dust” can be a very real possibility without proper care. There are also migraine headaches, lack of quality sleep, tiredness, or moodiness. Teeth grinding, or bruxism, doesn’t just impact your teeth, it affects your whole body.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent or eliminate the frequency of teeth grinding and save your teeth.
1. Wear a mouth guard at night. Your dentist can make a mouth guard appliance for you to wear at night. Although it may not necessarily stop you from grinding, it will redistribute the forces from grinding and protect your teeth from damage. Your dentist will want to see you regularly to check for any tooth movement or cavities that might result from wearing such an appliance. Keep in mind, however, that in order for the night guard to do any good you must remember to wear it every night.
2. Keep your lips sealed, but your teeth apart. Your teeth should be touching only when you’re chewing or swallowing. Make a conscious effort to drop your jaw whenever you notice your teeth clamped together. You should immediately feel the muscles relax — then try to maintain that feeling.
3. Take a warm bath before bedtime. Warm water is great for a variety of ailments. One of which is muscle relaxation. The warmth of the water relaxes your jaw muscles too and hopefully keeps them relaxed through the night.
4. Exercise. Exercise is another great cure-all. Whether you enjoy intense, heart pumping aerobics or just a casual walk, either way exercise may help relieve some of the tension and stress that’s causing bruxism.
5. Remind yourself. If you have been known to clench your teeth during the day, think of ways to remind yourself not to clench. For example, you can put a red dot on your phone, stickers on your watch, or even a string on your finger to remind you to keep your jaw relaxed.
6. Relieve stress. Stress is a major contributor to grinding, so if you can reduce stress, you will likely reduce grinding. If stress has become a major problem for you, practicing techniques such as progressive relaxation or guided imagery or self-hypnosis can be very beneficial for stress reduction. Even try listening to relaxation tapes. In other words, find something that helps you to better handle the stress in your life.
7. Take a mild analgesic. Ibuprofen, for example, can dull the pain and help relax stiff muscles. Please consult your doctor or dentist before taking any medication.
8. Apply heat. Warm, moist heat is best. The simplest method: Soak a washcloth in hot water, wring it out, and hold it up to your jaw. Another option would be to use a heating pad, although moist heat will penetrate better.
9. Massage. Massages are relaxing for the rest of your body, so try a gentle massage to your jaw muscles. This is particularly effective if you feel yourself stressed at work or during the day – take a break and massage your jaw a bit to loosen the tension.
10. Give your jaw muscles a break. Foods like steak, hard-crusted bread, popcorn, gum, and other chewy foods give your jaw muscles an unintentional workout. Try to avoid these tough foods, especially when jaw discomfort is at its worst.
In some cases, people may not even know they have a problem with grinding their teeth. Often, people who clench their teeth may not even be aware that they do it. But the fact is that clenching or grinding your teeth is something that over time can cause major tooth problems, even possibly cracking and breaking your teeth.
Regular dental visits are an important part of keeping your teeth healthy, but they are also ways for the dentist to check for underlying problems, like bruxism or other jaw problems.
These 10 tips can help you ease your jaw pain and get your bruxism under control. Also, make it a point to visit the dentist every six months so you aren’t damaging your teeth and jaw without even knowing it.