Teeth grinding involves moving your top and bottom teeth from side to side. Some individuals clench their teeth together and others will both clinch and grind at some point in their lives.
Sometimes clenching and grinding are diagnosed during regular dental visits when a dentist or hygienist spots signs indicating an ongoing problem, like worn-down tooth enamel or flattening.
But there are other ways the problems show up. Your sleep partner might notice you’re gnashing your teeth at night. Or perhaps you develop pain or tension in your face or jaw. You might have a headache concentrated in your temples, or feel pain and sensitivity directly in your teeth.
Talking to a dental professional is the No. 1 most important thing you can do if you feel you may be clinching or grinding. They’ll take a detailed history and, depending on what you’re presenting with, help you find the best solution for you.
That’s because various factors can contribute to clenching and grinding, including (but by no means limited to) stress, underlying sleep disorders and even particular medications, like SSRI antidepressants.
A dental professional will take a close look at your bite, your teeth and your mouth. They will be able to determine if you have underlying issues, too, like broken or chipped teeth or if your bite is misaligned.
Keep a Pain Log
It can be really helpful to jot down some notes for your oral health care provider about your experience. If you wake up with a headache, for example, you might be grinding at night. If you notice yourself clenching at specific times of day, it might be in response to particular stressors. (For example, does it happen when you’re watching the news? When you’re at work?)
Keep a log of when you have headaches and pain, and what it feels like. If you don’t understand what’s causing your clenching and grinding you may get recurrence.
Avoid DIY-ing a Mouth Guard
Mouth guards are sometimes used to help address grinding by mitigating some of the damage done to teeth at night. But oral health care providers warn against trying to address the problem on your own.
There is a chance your relatively mild problem (teeth grinding with some pain) may be made worse by wearing a mouth guard that wasn’t right for you/ill-fitting---even causing severe bite changes or a locked jaw.
Before trying an over-the-counter guard, talk to a oral health care provider who can give you tips on how to form it to your mouth, which brand would be best and more.
Get out the stickers
Yes, it is important to first be evaluated by a dental professional who can set you on the right course. But there are also strategies you can try at home, particularly when it comes to daytime clenching. (Though both are unconscious behaviors, nighttime grinding isn’t one you can necessarily control as much on your own.)
Simply reminding yourself to separate your teeth can make a big difference, There are free apps you can download that send you gentle reminders throughout the day to keep your teeth apart, which immediately relieves tension in your jaw and face.
Or you can go old-school and buy a pack of stickers that you place throughout your belongings — on your remote, on your phone, on the refrigerator. When you see them, they remind you to keep your teeth apart.
Bottom line: Be ready to take a close look at your emotional well-being
It’s not always clear exactly why a person starts clenching or grinding. But sometimes it’s obvious. Stress can be a major contributor.
It’s very important to understand the onset of pain. Quite often it begins during a stressful moment in your life. A custom-fit appliance can be prescribed but if you don’t take care of what’s going on, you might have difficulty managing the situation.
Sometimes an oral health care provider may offer a referral to a psychologist and work closely with mental health professionals so patients can treat not only what’s going on in their mouth but also find strategies for managing stress. These methods can include lifestyle habits, such as increasing exercise; meditation; and spending more time outdoors, as well as treatments like therapy and medication.