If it feels like you haven't had a good night's rest in a REALLY long time and you've also had jaw stiffness or pain or maybe even earache or a migraine you can't explain - then this post is for you.
The cause could be: teeth grinding (the official term used in dentistry - is 'bruxism').
IT CAN BE THE ROOT CAUSE OF EVERYTHING FROM TOOTH BREAKAGE TO MIGRAINES, BUT MANY OF US GRIND OUR TEETH WITHOUT REALISING IT, ESPECIALLY AT NIGHT. HERE’S HOW TO SPOT THE SIGNS…
So I will start by sharing a brief summary of my experience with these symptoms last November 2020: after a long year of COVID related anxiety, a rapidly increasing workload & a move into the darker colder winter months: I started to wake up several times a night and couldn't sleep. This was accompanied by a ringing in my ears and increasing jaw stiffness in the morning. I finally made an appointment with the ear doctor (as the ear ringing was affecting my sleep the most). He then told me to go to the dentist because all these symptoms he diagnosed - were due to something called 'bruxism' (to you and I...this alien term means teeth grinding.)
TURNS OUT I WAS NOT ALONE...THE NHS ESTIMATES THAT 70% OF TEETH GRINDING CASES ARE CAUSED BY STRESS AND ANXIETY. SOME STUDIES HAVE SHOWN UP TO 25% INCREASE IN TEETH GRINDING CASES CAUSED BY PANDEMIC RELATED STRESS.
Now - with a family background in dentistry - I thought I would be aware of most oral health terms at least at a high level. However, I had zero knowledge of bruxism or how my jaw could be causing so much upset.
Actually to be clear - I had no idea that my high stress levels could cause such jaw stiffness and clenching issues, in addition to persistent ear ringing - literally affecting every area of my life from sleep to my ability to concentrate while working.
In short - it felt to me debilitating for at least a month - mostly because even when I went to the dentist - a lot of the dental advice surrounding treatment relates to reducing stress (try tell a person who's feeling stressed... to stop feeling stressed.)
HERE'S A BIT MORE INFO ON WHAT TEETH GRINDING IS, CAUSES & HOW TO MANAGE
A. What is Teeth Grinding?
Dr Milad Shadrooh (aka, The Singing Dentist): “The technical term for teeth grinding is bruxism, and it’s the process whereby people grind their teeth together and very often clench their jaw very tightly. In isolation, and considering their size, the jaw muscles are probably the strongest in the body, and if you think about the fact that when we grind our teeth, we can exert up to 120 per cent of the maximum force we can apply during the day for activities such as eating, you can see why it could cause quite significant and far-reaching damage.”
B. What Are The Symptoms Of Teeth Grinding?
Dental professionals explain that there are multiple symptoms which can range from the jaw having a more squared shape than normal, to migraines, earache, shoulder ache & tooth sensitivity. Teeth fractures are another sign, and are especially common in teeth that have fillings, as the force involved in teeth grinding causes tiny breaks in brittle teeth. Tiny lines in teeth (called enamel craze) are also often telling of tooth grinding, and a patient will also often have tooth marks or indentations in their cheeks. There’s also the pain to consider- tooth grinding can trigger not only tooth sensitivity and jaw pain but migraines, tensions headaches and shoulder pain. In short, it’s not a lot of fun.
As you can imagine, this all sounds incredibly unpleasant. The craziest thing about teeth grinding/clenching - is that it's possible you don't even realise you're doing it. Read below to learn when it may strike...
C. When Is Teeth Grinding/Clenching Most Likely To Occur?
Teeth grinding is generally a nocturnal habit, but a lot of people do it during the day too without noticing. They could be sitting at their desk, waiting in traffic or just going about their business, but all the while clenching their jaw and grinding their teeth.
Dr Milad explains - “More often you’re asleep when you’re grinding your teeth, so of course you wouldn’t be conscious that you’re doing it, but a partner might hear it and they would be quick to tell you as the sound can be quite loud and disconcerting. However, it is also important to note that just clenching your teeth together can also cause the same problems, but in that case, there’d be no sound at all.”
D. What Are The Causes Of Teeth Grinding/Clenching?
“Nobody definitively knows the reasons why people grind their teeth, but stress is a big factor. Episodes of teeth grinding can often tally with stressful life events, for instance a pandemic (!), sitting exams, moving house, losing a job or starting a new one, trying for a baby or becoming parents, divorce...the triggers in this sense can be varied. Sometimes this means that teeth grinding comes and goes, but once you start teeth grinding it can become a habit- it can develop into a kind of “release” for the brain. This means that even if a patient is, say, retired and living a very chilled lifestyle, the teeth grinding continues.”
“Bite abnormalities, or a history of complex dental treatments, can also be factor. For example, if you’ve had braces in the past, you may be more likely to clench your jaw and grind your teeth. Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea have a strong association with teeth grinding too."
OKAY, SO YOU'RE EITHER AT THE POINT WHERE YOU'RE LIKE THANK GOD I HAVEN'T EXPERIENCED THIS...OR YOU'RE LIKE WOW, THIS IS ME, PLEASE TELL ME HOW TO RESOLVE THIS!
HOW TO STOP GRINDING TEETH WHEN YOU SLEEP
1. Visit The Dentist
The surefire way to figure out if teeth grinding/clenching really is the root problem of your sleep related ailments is to go see your dentist.
Many people are unaware that dentists are actually open for appointments, and have been in the UK since around May 2020. National dental chains such as Smileright at Boots are a great place to start if you haven't got a regular dental practitioner you see.
So if you're having issues - don't let lockdown stop you seeking the medical/dental help you may need!
2. Create a Relaxation Routine Before Bedtime
This means trying to avoid technology at least an hour before bedtime, and winding down with a warm bath or shower & some relaxing music and a good book.
Creating a wind down routine before bedtime can help your body relax - and help relieve any built up stress around your jaw. Also avoid alcohol or caffeine before bedtime.
This could include a self care routine such as facial massage as well as brightening your smile. For example, the SmileTime Charcoal Teeth Whitening Kit is a quick solution to brighten your smile before bedtime. Or you could use the Teeth Whitening Kit while you're in the bath, or applying a face mask.
3. Start Daily Face Massages
Massaging your jaw may help increase blood flow and reduce muscle tightness. You can try this by opening your mouth and gently rubbing the muscles next to your ears in a circular motion. This is the area where the temporomandibular joints are located. Try this several times a day, including right before bed.
There are also treatments that may provide relief. Healthline suggests:
- hot or cold compress applied to the jaw muscles
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or other over-the-counter pain relievers
- prescription medications, including muscle relaxers or antidepressants
- Botox injections
- head and neck stretches
4. Eat More Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Inflammation of the temporomandibular joint (the jaw joint) is a major contributing factor to TMJ-related pain and discomfort. For that reason, adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet can be a helpful step in relieving symptoms.
To adjust your diet to be less inflammatory, you’ll want to add some of these foods to your regular meals:
- Green, leafy vegetables, like swiss chard, spinach, or kale
- Fruits like strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, and cherries
- Celery (the benefits even extend to the seeds!)
- Fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, and tuna
- Nuts, such as walnuts and almonds
- Olive oil
All of these foods are high in antioxidants and polyphenols, both of which are proven to reduce the risk of inflammation. However, not all these foods are easy to include in a soft food diet if you’re trying to deal with acute jaw pain and muscle tension. Cook foods well when necessary, and process crunchy fruits and vegetables into smoothies to retain nutrients as appropriate.
5. Try Exercise Daily
Exercising can really up the endorphins in your body and help reduce stress - which in turn can help reduce jaw stiffness.
There are also exercises you can do to relax your jaw. Repeat small mouth-opening and mouth-closing movements several times as a warm up. Then, place your fingers on the top of your front four bottom teeth. Slowly pull down until you feel slight discomfort on the tight side of your jaw. Hold for 30 seconds, and then slowly release your jaw back to the staring position.
Dr Milad confirms that “In nine out of ten cases, the teeth grinding I see is related to the stresses of everyday life, but if I suspect that it’s related to severe ongoing anxiety or psychosis, I would refer a patient to a cognitive behavioral specialist or mental health professional.”
So ultimately, our lifestyle and mental health can have a severe impact on our jaw and oral health, in addition to our general physical health. As such it's important to start paying more attention to the signs your body might be telling you - seeking dental or medical advice if needed - and incorporate some holistic measures into your life to reduce daily stress.