I recently went to the dentist for my regular cleaning. The dentist mentioned that I had signs of wear from clenching or grinding my teeth and recommended a night guard as well as relaxation practices to keep me from clenching my jaw. After this was brought to my attention, I discovered that I have been experiencing negative symptoms from jaw clenching and hadn't even realized I had been doing it!
Although there are many causes of jaw clenching, after looking into my problem, I have narrowed my jaw clenching down to stress factors. If you are having symptoms of jaw clenching, you may be going through the same thing as I was. Let's look at the symptoms of jaw clenching, the negative impacts it can have on your health, and how you can prevent stress-induced clenching before it causes any long-term damage.
What is Jaw Clenching?
Jaw clenching is a form of bruxism which is when you grind, gnash, or clench your teeth. This can happen during the day or night, but most people are unaware they are doing it because it often happens during times of deep concentration or stress. Sleep bruxism is when you clench or grind your teeth while sleeping and is more likely to cause damage because it happens over a longer period of time and with more force than clenching during the day.
How Can You Tell if You've Been Clenching Your Jaw?
There are many symptoms that can occur to let you know if you've been clenching your jaw. If you've experiencing any of the following issues, stress-induced jaw clenching might be the culprit. Let’s look at some of the common symptoms of bruxism.
Jaw Pain or Jaw Tightness
Clenching your jaw can cause muscle tension that results in tightness that causes a sore jaw. You might notice that your teeth clenching has led to sore facial muscles as well. In my case, I felt great relief when I intentionally relaxed my jaw finally allowing the surrounding muscles to rest.
Because the muscles in your jaw are connected to your head and neck muscles, clenching your jaw can lead to headaches. If you've been experiencing a tension headache, characterized by a steady ache, this could be caused from the muscle tension created from clenching your jaw.
Popping or Clicking of Your Jaw
You may also notice that your jaw pops or clicks when you move it. This is due to the misalignment of your teeth caused by clenching which puts extra pressure on your joints. When you open your mouth wide, you may hear a pop coming from your jaw joint.
Tooth Sensitivity or Pain
Another sign of clenching your jaw is tooth pain or sensitivity. You might feel pain in your teeth when you chew or drink hot or cold beverages. Your teeth may also become more sensitive to the temperature changes. This is because your tooth enamel may be worn down leaving your nerves unprotected and exposed.
Chipped, Fractured, Loose, or Worn Teeth
Clenching your teeth can put excessive pressure on your teeth causing them to chip, crack, or break. The signs may be more clear on your lower teeth since that's where the pressure tends to fall the most. If you have pain in your teeth, or any worn or loose teeth, this may be a sign of clenching. You may also notice crooked teeth along your lower jaw as a result of clenching and grinding pressure.
Another common symptom of clenching your jaw is ear pain or an earache. You might notice a dull ache in your ear that is worse when you move your jaw. This is because the muscles and bones in your ear are connected to your jaw muscles.
What Causes Jaw Clenching?
There are many different things that can cause you to clench your jaw. In some cases, it may be due to an underlying medical condition. However, in other cases, it may be caused by stress or anxiety.
Here are some of the causes of jaw clenching:
- Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ disorders)
- Tooth infection or abscess
- Impacted wisdom teeth
- Dental procedures
- Injuries to the jaw, head, or face
How to Stop Clenching Your Jaw From Stress
If you think that stress is causing you to clench your jaw, there are some things you can do to stop it. Pay attention to your body and look for signs of clenching when you are in stressful situations. There are stress management techniques that can help you prevent awake bruxism and even relax you before you go to sleep to combat night clenching and grinding.
Identify Triggers That Cause You to Clench Your Jaw From Stress
The first step in learning how to stop clenching your jaw from stress is to identify the things that trigger your clenching. Once you know what triggers your bruxism, you can avoid those situations or learn how to deal with them in a different way.
There are many different things that can trigger jaw clenching. Some people may clench their jaw when they are angry or frustrated. Others may do it when they are worried or stressed. And some people may clench their jaw when they are concentrating on something.
Avoid or Minimize Exposure Your Triggers
Pay attention throughout the day to identify the times when you are feeling stressed and are clenching your jaw. After figuring out your triggers, you can be aware of them and prevent the clenching before it happens.
If you can identify your sources of stress and avoid the triggers, that is the best way to stop them from causing stress. However, if you have an unavoidable trigger, you can work on stress management and preventative techniques.
Take Preventative Measures
When you know you are going to be dealing with a stress trigger, you can take preventative measures so that you don't clench your jaw. The most basic way of doing this is to stay mindful of your jaw and consciously stop yourself from clenching it. However, since you've been subconsciously clenching, this can be harder to do than it sounds.
Another preventative option is to use a bite guard during stressful situations. While these are generally used at night, you can use them as a tool during the day as well. If you are going into a stressful situation, such as taking a test, you can put on your bite guard before beginning the test so you don't have to worry about clenching your jaw.
Try Stress-Relieving Techniques
Relaxation techniques like meditation and deep breathing can help you stop clenching your jaw from stress. If you are feeling stressed, take a few minutes to do some deep breathing exercises or meditate. This can help you relax your jaw and prevent clenching.
There are many different ways to meditate, so find one that works best for you. There are also apps that can guide you through meditation if you are new to it.
See a Dentist
If you have tried all of these things and you are still clenching your jaw, it is important to talk to your dentist about it. In some cases, jaw clenching can be due to an underlying medical condition. It can also cause long-term effects if not taken care of. In severe cases, it could even result in loss of teeth.
Your dentist may recommend working with a physical therapist or other healthcare provider. Or they may suggest you see a massage therapist for a neck massage to release the tension in your muscles. There are many things that a healthcare professional can help you with including:
- Prescribing muscle relaxants.
- Identifying the underlying causes and any emotional issues related to your mental health.
- Giving you jaw exercises to work on.
- Identifying nutritional deficiencies.
- Massaging tense areas to release your jaw.
- Creating a custom mouth guard.
As you can see, there is no one best way to stop clenching your jaw from stress. However, once you identify what's causing the clenching, you can take steps to protect your dental health. Be sure to see a dentist and mention your symptoms at your next appointment.