If you’re reading this article, you’re probably struggling with it in some way. Not only can stress cause jaw clenching and teeth grinding, but grinding the teeth and clenching the jaw can also lead to stress and discomfort. It’s certainly a cycle and not an easy one to break.
You may even grind your teeth because you have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea.
Nevertheless, there’s hope: we’ve been treating these issues for years, and you can read up on the causes, symptoms, and treatments before you even walk in the door to see us.
We’ll help you break the cycle of stress and teeth clenching (also known as bruxism) once and for all.
Bruxism & Jaw Clenching
While bruxism and jaw clenching are two separate behaviors, they are often linked and even have some of the same underlying causes.
- Bruxism or teeth grinding. All of us grind our teeth from time to time, but more severe cases of bruxism lead to a world of dental problems. There are two iterations of the problem:
- Awake bruxism occurs in the daytime and is often a reaction to stress, depression, or anxiety, often serving as an unconscious physical reaction to these feelings.
- Sleep bruxism occurs overnight. People typically grind their teeth at night due to a misaligned bite or sleep apnea, with grinding signaling their bodies to restart breathing as they sleep.
- Jaw clenching. This is characterized by tightness in the jaw and may result from many different underlying conditions. Overusing the jaw muscles with excessive chewing, holding them tensed in your sleep, or tightening them under stressful situations are all examples of jaw clenching.
These conditions go together in most cases. It’s extremely common for people to grind their teeth while clenching their jaw, or vice versa.
It’s worth tackling these as a joint issue for many patients.
Symptoms of Jaw Clenching
Jaw clenching symptoms are often painful but can help clue you in that it’s time for medical advice. These warning signs often overlap with bruxism as well.
These symptoms signal it’s time to see a holistic dentist about your jaw clenching:
- Limited range of motion when opening the mouth
- Jaw clicking or popping
- Damage to teeth like flattening, chipping, or even fractures
- Jaw pain that can extend to the ears, nose, and mouth on one or both sides
- A dull headache that starts in the temple
- Disrupted sleep
- Stiffness in the joints of the jaw
- Pain that feels like an earache but is unrelated to the ear
- Trouble chewing
One or more of these is enough reason to go see your dentist. Both jaw clenching and bruxism are health issues that can lead to severe damage over time. Plus, you shouldn’t have to live in discomfort!
If you’re nervous about your treatment, look for a dentist specializing in anxiety-free dentistry, like Rejuv Dentistry, particularly if you’re already experiencing stress.
Causes of Jaw Clenching
The causes of jaw clenching can be manifold, so it’s essential to be informed of the variety of reasons it may happen. Your habits and medical history can be clues to the causes of that sore jaw and may guide your dentist in selecting the best treatment option.
1. Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)
Bruxism, or teeth grinding, is one of the leading causes of jaw clenching. Studies have shown that up to 20% of the population struggles with jaw clenching and teeth grinding while awake, and up to 31% of adults grind their teeth in their sleep.
This grinding can cause significant damage to the teeth and pain in the jaw, not to mention possible sleep deprivation that comes with its own side effects.
Can teeth grinding be cured? Teeth grinding while awake can often be cured, and there are many treatments to alleviate sleep bruxism. If you’re noticing signs of damage in tooth enamel, dentures, or dental restorations along with jaw tightness, see your dentist right away.
2. Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMJ or TMD)
Temporomandibular joint disorders, or TMJ disorders, are characterized by sore facial muscles, jaw pain, difficulty eating, and more. In many cases, these disorders can go unnoticed for years, leading to more significant holistic issues and even nutritional deficiencies.
These disorders may be caused by teeth grinding or by a misaligned bite, both of which can lead to painful jaw tension. This can lead to a higher likelihood of mental health issues or developing a sleep disorder.
3. Stress & Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are major contributors to jaw tightness. Clenching the jaw is a common unconscious reaction to unsettling circumstances, or worse yet, chronic stress. Ongoing stress can have devastating effects on not only oral health but the whole body.
Anxiety and stress are linked to tension throughout the body. When left untreated, they may contribute to jaw clenching, teeth grinding, and muscle pain or tightness in other areas of the body.
4. Excessive Chewing
Excessive chewing can overuse the jaw muscles, causing soreness and tension. If you regularly chew gum, pencils, the inside of your mouth, or anything else, it is a recipe for jaw clenching and muscle pain.
5. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
RA is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic, painful inflammation in joints throughout the body, including the temporomandibular joint. Approximately 50% of people with RA develop TMJ symptoms.
This loss of motion and pain in the jaw may lead to clenching and even teeth grinding, as well as an increased risk of developing TMD. Long term, it may contribute to bone loss in the jaw or damage to the joint and surrounding tissue.
In rare cases, jaw clenching can be a sign of the bacterial infection tetanus, also called lockjaw. This disease is fast-acting and can be deadly if not treated.
Tetanus is preventable, however, by staying up-to-date on vaccinations.
7. Sleep Disorders
Sleep disorders are another major contributor to jaw clenching and grinding teeth, particularly sleep apnea and sleep-disordered breathing. In fact, 3 out of 4 people have some form of sleep-disordered breathing.
Sleep apnea causes your body to stop breathing as you rest. When this is the cause of sleep bruxism, your brain sends signals to clench the jaw and grind your teeth to wake you and re-initiate breathing.
Over time, sleep disorders can damage teeth, lower nitric oxide levels, and create fatigue, so it’s vital to find courses of action to stop grinding teeth and clenching the jaw.
Side Effects of Jaw Clenching and Bruxism
The side effects of jaw clenching and bruxism are wide-ranging. These can include damage to teeth like flattening, cracking, and wearing down, drowsiness that can affect daily tasks, a sore throat, persistent earaches and headaches, pain in the head and neck muscles, to name a few.
Problems speaking, swallowing, and chewing may also occur in severe cases.
How to Stop Clenching Your Jaw
Many patients also ask: how do I stop grinding my teeth at night? You can stop grinding your teeth at night using coronoplasty, DNA appliance, stress reduction, or biotherapy, depending on the contributing factors.
Read on to learn more about how to stop clenching your jaw.
1. Tongue & Jaw Exercises
Perhaps you’re wondering, “How do I stop grinding my teeth in my sleep naturally?”
While studies prove it’s challenging to stop grinding your teeth in your sleep naturally, a mild case may be helped by tongue and jaw exercises, mindfulness, skipping smoking and drinking, and stress reduction.
Several exercises can help release jaw tension. Here are a few that may help.
- Press the tip of your tongue to the front teeth, then open the mouth wide, creating distance between the upper teeth and the lower teeth. Repeat 10 times.
- Practice making the “n” sound, which keeps the jaw from clenching and teeth from grinding. Repeat whenever you feel jaw tension.
- Smile as widely as is comfortable, and begin to slowly open the jaw as widely as you can without feeling pain, ideally two more inches. Breathe deeply through the mouth, and release on an exhalation. Repeat 10 times.
Avoid doing these exercises if they are causing you pain. You may also try lightly massaging the jaw for relief.
Some claim that a type of occlusal splint known as a nightguard (a type of mouthguard) may help eliminate overnight bruxism and jaw clenching. Customized and over-the-counter models are available.
However, in my practice, I’ve seen these worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea and bruxism as they don’t treat the underlying source of the clenching and grinding. I don’t recommend a mouthguard for treatment.
3. DNA Appliance
Unlike mouthguards, I am a proponent of DNA appliances for effective, long-term treatment. These are great options for how to stop grinding the teeth and how to stop clenching your jaw.
Research shows that a DNA appliance can effectively treat sleep apnea. It does this by widening the airway and realigning the bite while correcting the underlying causes of TMJ and bruxism.
Truly, it can change the whole mouth, both awake and asleep!
Coronoplasty to stop grinding the teeth or clenching the jaw involves adding or removing material from the crowns of the teeth, changing the way you bite down.
Reductive coronoplasty removes material from the tooth, typically addressing crooked teeth. Additive coronoplasty adds material to the teeth, changing the shape of biting surfaces. Both of these changes can positively impact jaw clenching and bruxism.
While botox is considered a new temporary treatment, it doesn’t get to the root issues causing jaw tension or TMD/TMJ. Because botox limits the range of motion wherever it is injected, it may temporarily reduce pain levels.
Nevertheless, your best bet is always holistic care that gets to the underlying cause of conditions. Botox is a good option for short-term relief, but it’s certainly not going to help you stop clenching your jaw for good.
6. Stress Reduction
Reducing stress is always a positive thing for your health and treats one of the most common sources of grinding teeth and clenching jaws. Some techniques I’ve seen carry success are mindfulness meditation, yoga, talk therapy, and exercise (which I always recommend to boost overall health).
7. Biofeedback Therapy
In this technique, biofeedback therapists walk patients through understanding and controlling their body’s functions using vibratory, visual, or auditory feedback. This allows conscious control over and changes in jaw clenching, at least in some cases.
However, much more research is needed to prove that biofeedback therapy can truly make a long-term difference in treating bruxism and jaw clenching.
Other Treatment for Jaw Clenching
While the treatments listed above are my top picks for jaw clenching, here are some options that can complement treatment:
- Antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and other medications: Prescription medication should only be used when other treatment methods are insufficient. Even then, they are only recommended for short periods in severe cases. Some recommendations can also cause bruxism, ironically.
- Acupuncture and acupressure: Acupressure may be a helpful secondary option to relieve pain in the jaw and stimulate the peripheral nervous system. However, I don’t recommend it as a standalone option.
- Nutritional changes: Teeth grinding may be related to a deficiency in magnesium, calcium, vitamin B5, or vitamin D. Increasing these may be helpful as you treat your jaw clenching.
When to See a Doctor
While mild cases of jaw clenching and grinding teeth may resolve without issue, severe cases will need prompt dental treatment to bring relief to both the jaw and prevent further damage.
If you’re living with a consistently sore jaw, it’s time to see someone.
You can schedule an appointment here with our expert team at Rejuvenation Dentistry. Whatever the cause of your teeth grinding and jaw clenching, we can put your mind and muscles at ease.
Your sleep patterns, stress levels, sore muscles, and overall health will thank you for your dental visit. After all, what goes on in your mouth is a mirror for what goes on in the body.