If you find yourself clenching or grinding teeth often, you definitely not alone. Grinding and clenching is a common problem that many people suffer from. The condition is medically known as bruxism. When grinding your teeth is only occasional, it usually isn’t matter for concern. However, when grinding and clenching persists throughout a large portion of the day or night, it can lead to harmful symptoms. Bruxism over an extended period of time can lead to worn teeth, recession of the gums, muscle fatigue, TMJ jaw pain, and even increased risk for depression. In this article you will learn the causes and common treatments to stop grinding your teeth.
Clenching or grinding your teeth is caused by one or more of a few factors. The factors breakdown into three main categories: 1) The position of your jaw and the balance of your teeth when they occlude together 2) Your muscle and neurological physiology and 3) Emotional stress. Each of these three categories can be treated to improve your symptoms. Here are the most common ways teeth grinding and clenching (bruxism) is improved:
Stretching. By stretching the muscles of the jaw, it can help to reduce muscle tension from building. Reducing muscle distress will help to prevent further grinding and clenching. Gently practice stretching your range of jaw movement. Open and close slowly, then go side to side. A common stretching technique is 1) Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth. 2) Slowly open your mouth without your tongue leaving the roof of your mouth. You will feel a stretch at the back of your jaw just before your tongue is pulled off the palate. Hold in that position for about 30 seconds and repeat 4-5 times each day.
Massage your jaw muscles. Rubbing the muscles on the side of the jaw and the side of the head near the temples can help to relieve tension and reduce bruxism.
Warm Compresses. Gentle heat can help relax your jaw muscles use a warm facecloth or take a warm shower. A heating pad can also do the trick, though moist heat is best because it tends to penetrate better.
Wear a Night Guard. A TMJ or TMD dental specialist can custom fit you for an occlusal guard, which is an appliance that sits on the top of your teeth. There are over the counter night guards, but we find they usually are not helpful long term. The reason is because the OTC night guards establish an arbitrary jaw position and can’t accurately position the jaw in the position which will soothe muscle tension and prevent teeth grinding.
Bruxism is often caused by teeth hitting harder in some spots than others, instead of even distribution of forces. The goal of the custom occlusal guard is to adjust the position of the teeth so the bite is more balanced. An occlusal guard also serves to adjust the amount the jaw is closing by serving to prop in a more open position. A more open jaw position reduces the amount the muscle can contract which serves to reduce muscle tension and teeth grinding.
An occlusal night guard can be used as a test or a definitive treatment. When used as a test, the dentist is looking to determine how the jaw function is improved if the bite and jaw are better balanced. Once improvement is found, other treatments can be used to help permanently balance the bite either with orthodontics, restorative treatment, or occlusal equilibration.
Catch yourself from grinding. It is possible to grind or clench your teeth during the day. Try to be aware of your jaw position. When you find yourself clenching or moving your mouth in a grinding motion try to consciously break the habit. A good technique in the early stages is to try to chew sugar free gum throughout the day. The gum will help to make you aware of jaw position and also serves to keep the teeth from generating as much force when clenching and grinding.
Relax. Anxiety and stress have a major link to chronic muscle tension and our physiological habits. Although easier said than done, try your best to reduce emotional stress. Grinding and clenching will often reduce proportionally to emotional stress.
Avoid Caffeine. Grinding and clenching is linked to some medications and substances we consume. One of the more common culprits is caffeine. Try to skip that cup of coffee, particularly caffeine later in the day.
Seek Help. If you suffer from persistent grinding or clenching, see a TMJ specialist in your area. TMJ (also known as TMD), is topic in dentistry that not all dentists are as experienced. Seek out the top TMJ specialists in your area. There are several potential treatments available that will be customized to treat your specific needs.
Some common treatments for clenching or grinding may involve a custom occlusal night guard, orthodontics, restorative dentistry, Botox, or occlusal equilibration.
Although it sounds complicated, it’s probably not as difficult as it sounds. The first step is to just have a consult to get an understanding of your specific case, and how to prevent future issues.