Many people clench or grind their teeth, a condition called bruxism, without being aware of it. Clenching occurs when you press your upper and lower teeth tightly together. Grinding happens when you rub your teeth back and forth against each other. Your dentist may see signs of wear on your teeth that indicate that you grind.
Although the cause isn’t fully understood, bruxism is often due to stress. Over time it can cause issues including:
Problems with your temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This joint connects your lower jaw to your skull. TMJ problems can lead to symptoms such as jaw pain, earache, headache, and clicking or popping noises when you open or close your mouth.
Worn down and broken teeth. Grinding can also cause teeth to become painful and loose.
Since bruxism can damage teeth and cause jaw, head, and ear pain, it’s important to try to kick the habit. Here are some things you can do to ease the pain while breaking the cycle:
Reduce stress. Everything from eating a healthy diet to getting regular exercise to spending time with people you enjoy can help.
Relax your face and jaw muscles. Practicing this throughout the day can help you create a habit of relaxing instead of tightening these muscles.
Tell your dentist if you clench or grind your teeth. Your dentist may suggest a type of mouth guard called a splint, a bite guard, or a night guard. There are several different types that work in different ways. Your dentist can design one that will work best for you.
“Bruxism.” Medline Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001413.htm. Accessed 2013.
“Stress and Anxiety.” Medline Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003211.htm. Accessed 2013.
“TMJ Disorders.” Medline Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001227.htm. Accessed 2013.
“Teeth Grinding?” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/t/teeth-grinding. Accessed 2013.