Grinding and clenching your teeth—also called bruxism—comes with some pretty gnarly side effects. Here, dentists share six tips for quitting the clench.
Photo: Peter Dazeley / Getty Images
If oral care were in the Olympics, you'd take home gold. You floss three to four times a week, you're in an Instagram-confirmed relationship with your electric toothbrush (don't @ me, this is totally a thing), and you've even tried activated charcoal toothpaste in the name of clean canines. But (ugh), there's one not-so-smile-worthy habit you could be doing without even knowing it: grinding your teeth.
Dentists call this "bruxism" and it's actually pretty common: "As much as 85 to 90 percent of the population will be affected by it at some point in their lives," says Shab Krish, D.D.S., M.S., D.A.B.C.P., author of Restore Your Rest: Solutions for TMJ and Sleep Disorders. Indeed, research suggests that 8 percent of adults grind their teeth while awake, while 20 percent grind while asleep. Either way, "most people don't realize they're doing it until a dentist notices excessive tooth wear and points it out to them," says Krish.
Symptoms of Teeth Grinding
Besides obvious wear patterns on your teeth, if you have bruxism, you may experience other symptoms like jaw pain, morning headaches, migraines, neck and shoulder pain, difficulty opening your mouth, jaw pain, sensitive teeth, ringing in your ear or ear pain, or dizziness, says Jeffrey S. Haddad, D.D.S., of Michigan Center for TMJ and Sleep Wellness. (Related: 11 Things Your Mouth Can Tell You About Your Health)
The issue with constantly grinding your teeth is that it can cause long-term damage to your teeth. "It can cause your teeth to chip, crack, or fracture, your gums to recede, painful sensitivity to temperature, and tenderness to pressure," explains Anita Myers, D.D.S., author of Stunning Smiles! A Dental Guide to Improve the Way You Eat, Smile, & Live. Scary stuff.
So how can you avoid grinding your teeth and the painful side effects that come with it? Below, six dentist-backed tips for keeping your oral health at gold-medal status.
1. Get your bite checked.
First, find out if the grinding is caused by the shape and alignment of your teeth, says Myers. "Many people grind their teeth because there is an imbalance in the way the teeth fit together." Your teeth may be misaligned because of tooth crowding, high fillings, misfit crowns, or an actual shift in the jaw joint itself.
Dentists can shave down any peaks to make sure that your bite is as smooth as possible, which will help stop the grinding and ease the symptoms too. (BTW: Is Happy Hour Hurting Your Teeth?)
2. Sleep in a night guard.
A night guard is a great way to treat those who grind their teeth at night, says Myers. "The guard creates an artificial smoothness which reduces how much people grind. But even if people still grind, there's a barrier that protects your teeth."
But not any mouth guard will do. "Don't try to use one of the store-bought ones to cure night grinding. Those often don't fit properly and actually increase chewing and gnawing in your sleep," warns Samantha B. Rawdin, D.M.D.
Instead, get one custom made from your dentist. It will fit your mouth exactly and address your specific issues. "These night guards are thin and barely noticeable," assures Haddad. Sure, it may be more expensive, but just think about how much money you'll save when you *don't* have to replace your teeth (!!) a few years down the road.
3. Get Botox along your jawline.
Yep, that Botox. The stuff people have been injecting into their faces to reduce wrinkles is also a solution for people who clench their teeth. "Getting Botox injected into your jawline works by preventing the jaw muscles from moving back and forth," explains Krish. (Related: Here's What Happened When One Writer Got Jaw Botox for Stress Relief)
Bad news: This effect is only temporary, says Haddad. "Botox will wear off in approximately three to six months, which means you'll have to repeatedly return for these injections—and continue to pay for them." One treatment can cost between $500 and $1,000, depending on how much Botox is needed.
A hefty bill to foot, but research has shown it's an effective treatment for night-time grinding, so you and your dentist may decide it's worth a (ahem) shot.
4. Wear a mouth guard when you exercise.
Have you ever caught yourself mean-mugging in the mirror while you're exercising? (Resting gym face > resting bitch face, right?). You could be clenching your jaw. "When people lift weights, they may clench their jaws to stabilize their neck and head," says Krish.
While fitness experts recommend stabilizing your jaw when lifting, it can cause some not-so-great side effects, including fractured or broken teeth, tooth wear, sensitivity to cold or hot when eating or drinking, headaches, jaw pain, neck pain, and ear pain or stiffness, says Krish.
The best defense against exercise-induced-bruxism is a mouth guard and nasal breathing, she says. For lifting, a cheap mouth guard from the drugstore will suffice because it creates a barrier between your teeth. But if you want to fly more under the radar, you can also get one from your dentist which is clear and much less noticeable. (And if you're not sure how to nose breathe? This guide can help.)
5. Become aware of when you clench your teeth during the day.
Welp, gym time isn't the only time during the day when people grind or clench their teeth. The trouble is, "most people don't realize when they're grinding or clenching their teeth at work," says Rawdin. To stop it, you first need to become aware of when you're doing it.
Sticking a Post-it on your monitor or setting a "relax your jaw" reminder alarm every 10 to 20 minutes can help you become aware of the habit.
6. Manage stress in other ways.
Because teeth grinding is often related to stress, Rawdin offers a final radical idea: Find a way to manage your stress and relax more. "Some people hold tension in their shoulders or back, while others manifest their stress by clenching and grinding," she says.
It's a misconception that jade rolling, face yoga, and facial massage can cure bruxism—they can't. But if those activities relax you, Rawdin says they're worth trying. "Really, anything that helps you manage your stress can help," she says.
These 20 simple stress relief tips—which have nothing to do with your mouth or jaw—can help too. Or let these essential oils help keep you calm. Your teeth (and, TBH, the rest of you), will thank you.