21% of the adult population report jaw pain often associated with teeth clenching and biting habits
Teeth clenching, and grinding is a concern for many patients who experience jaw pain and headaches. Teeth clenching, or ‘bruxism’, can be tricky to manage as it can occur both at night, and during the day.
There are many reasons why you might clench your teeth together and hold excessive tension through your jaw. Clenching can be secondary to poor stability and weakness through the neck and jaw. If we do not have adequate control in these areas our jaw tries to find extra stability by using our strong clenching muscles (masseters/temporalis) to compensate – we end up bringing our teeth together to let us know where our jaw is sitting in space. Motor control retraining of the neck and jaw is essential in these situations as it allows for better joint awareness and stability, which in turn minimizes the need for us to clench our teeth together, particularly during the day.
People who grind their teeth are three times more likely to suffer from headaches
Night time clenching, or ‘nocturnal bruxism’, can be a little more challenging to identify.
Bruxism can also be influenced by many other things, including stress, anxiety and medication. Old habits can be hard to break! When asking a patient recently why they thought they clenched, they answered: “Bringing my teeth together just feels so satisfying.”
How do I know if I clench or grind my teeth at night?
Ask your dentist – If you have been clenching or grinding your teeth for a long time, the easiest way to identify this is to ask your dentist. Dentists are your go-to experts when it comes to your teeth, and they can identify any structural changes that may have occurred. Your dentist may discover cracked/worn teeth or potentially scalloping (small rings) around the edge of your tongue.
You can hear it – often, it is a family member or partner that can hear you grinding your teeth together at night. Pure clenching, however, can be much quieter and go undiagnosed for years.
Jaw pain or headaches – if you find yourself waking up with a particularly tight or sore jaw or headache, further investigation into your nocturnal jaw postures could be beneficial.
What about during the day?
To know if we are clenching during the day, we need to make a conscious effort to check what our teeth and jaw are doing. Our comfortable jaw posture that is the posture our teeth, tongue and lips adopt whenever we are not using them for eating, talking, exercising is vital in identifying daytime bruxism.
70% of people clench and grind their teeth as a result of stress and anxiety
Resting jaw posture involves placing the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth (like you’re making the ‘nnnn’ sound), bringing your lips together, teeth apart, breathing in and out through your nose. If you have just checked your oral posture and realized your teeth were pressed firmly together, there is a good chance that you are clenching. The good news when it comes to clenching during the day is that we can make a conscious effort to change!
The treatment and management of bruxism is different for everyone as it depends on what is driving your condition. Physiotherapy is effective in addressing motor control deficits and educating patients on strategies to better manage their habits. However, if the musculoskeletal findings are clear, referral on to a dentist for a splint or Botox may be required. Yes, splints can be annoying to wear and usually cost upwards of $500, but it could be a worth-while investment as the cost of a cracked tooth or root canal is a whole lot more.
If you suffer from jaw pain or headaches, organize a consultation with your TMJ expert