You may not even be aware of some of its effects. Teeth-clenching and grinding are two of them.
The following signs may be your only clue that you are doing it, unless you grind your teeth and have a sleep-partner who can hear it.
Symptoms of Clenching and/or Grinding
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and jaw pain
- Neck pain
- Chronic headaches
- Earaches or ringing in the ears
- Tooth pain or sensitivity
- Gum recession
- Weakening, grinding down and/or chipping of teeth
- Disrupted or lack of sleep
You can get fitted for a mouth guard at your dentist’s office, which may be costly and uncomfortable, but it is a quick fix for nighttime. Or you can replace the habit — a better choice especially if you’re doing it while you are awake as well.
What to Do
- The normal at-rest position for the mouth (and the yogic position as well) is:
- Lips closed
- Teeth slightly apart
- Tongue-tip elevated to the alveolar ridge (the bump behind your upper teeth) or the blade elevated with the tip behind or between the teeth.
This position will lessen the tension on the TMJ and the massiter muscle.
I retrained myself about five years ago and I rarely catch myself clenching anymore. When I do, it’s as simple as changing my positioning.
Eventually, my tongue slid forward so the tip now sits behind my teeth and more of the blade is between my back teeth. If it is more comfortable there, who am I to argue as long as my teeth are still parted?
- Awareness is the key to change.
If you start increasing your awareness of your at-rest mouth position during the day and changing it to the normal position, it will be easier at night.
- Preparing for Sleep.
When you are getting ready to go to sleep, check your positioning.
At the beginning, I often had to place my tongue between my teeth to retrain my jaw to remain open. I was a ‘clencher’ who was able to make the conscious change permanent but it took time, awareness, and focused attention. It took remembering and knowing I was worth it! My mouth now remains in normal at-rest position, both day and night, generally without ever thinking about it.
- Relieving Pain
If you are experiencing any pain associated with clenching and grinding your teeth, including headaches, try the ‘screaming stretch’ until you have reprogrammed your at-rest mouth position.
The ‘screaming stretch’ is performed by opening the mouth as wide as you can while sticking out your tongue (this can be performed with or without screaming!).
Hold that position for approximately thirty seconds.
Perform as many times a day as you feel pain or just to prevent it. This position stretches the massiter muscle and flexes the TMJ.
Retraining you mouth position could still help alleviate the symptoms, even if your clenching or grinding is caused by:
- Abnormal alignment of upper and lower teeth (malocclusion) –please see your dentist.
- Complications resulting from a neurological disorder.
- Side effects of some psychiatric medications.
I wish I had documented how long it took me to reposition, but since I didn’t, the best advice I can offer you is: give it time and plenty of attention.
You will be able to affect a permanent change that will eliminate the headaches and all the other pains caused by clenching or grinding, and improve the quality of your sleep. It will also prevent any further damage to your teeth and gums.
Don’t these sound like goals worthy of your time and attention? Not to mention the money you can save on pain medication and dental care.
So, take the steps to stop clenching and grinding your teeth today!