7 tips to overcome bruxism and save your teeth
Paul looked at me miserably.
"Bad?" I asked him.
"Yes. My jaw actually feels swollen and I've made another appointment with the dentist!"
Teeth grinding used to really bug a pal of mine. He'd wake in the morning with an aching jaw, he'd catch himself grinding absentmindedly during the day, and pretty soon his teeth started to look like crumbling tombstones in a bad western movie.
Teeth grinding, or 'bruxism' as it is sometimes known, is an unconscious behaviour because, at least most of the time, you are not aware you are doing it.
Either you do it whilst you sleep or you just 'catch yourself' doing it during the day. So why on earth would anyone do this?
Teeth grinding: Causes and consequences
My friend's teeth grinding had started during a period of higher than normal stress in his life. But as he told me: "My life is good at the moment, so I don't understand why it's still happening!" Actually, a problem habit formed during stressful times often hangs around once the stress has lessened simply because it has become just that: a habit. Bad news if something isn't done about it.
Teeth grinding and jaw clenching can unfortunately cause many different problems. When you grind your teeth, you wear away the tooth enamel. Too much wear and tear can lead to sensitive teeth, decay, and also damaged dental work. Continued and prolonged teeth grinding can damage the muscles and joints of the jaw, which could even cause osteoarthritis.
Of course the sooner you stop grinding your teeth, the less damage you do.
So what can be done to stop the rot? Well, here are some ideas I've used with teeth grinding clients over the years and, of course, my good friend. : )
1) Raise your awareness to stop teeth grinding
Take a couple of moments each day just to be aware of what your jaw is doing. Set your watch to check, say, once at 9am, once at 11am, then again at 3pm, 6pm, and just before you go to sleep. Your lips should be sealed but your teeth should not be touching. Consciously drop your jaw and let your whole lower face relax. Imagine that you are 're-setting' your jaw and teeth to 'behave' for the next few hours - like programming your body. This will help change the teeth grinding pattern so that soon you'll notice it's been better without you having to think about it.
2) Get a night guard
No, not a security night watchman (unless you live in a really rough neighbourhood).
If teeth grinding has got to such a stage that you fear you might be doing damage, then consider asking your dentist to make a 'night guard' for you. This will be a plastic device to help redistribute the force from grinding, protecting your teeth from damage. And relax; you won't look like Hannibal Lector. : )
3) Try a bit of mouth massage
Massage relaxes the body directly. In a sense, we can look upon massage as a communication to your body. Massage 'says': "Let go of tension and start to relax!" Massage works for stressed backs and necks and can also help calm your jaw muscles, easing away tensions. Before you retire for the night, take five minutes to gently massage your own face and jaw. Use gentle small circular rubbing motions with your hands to loosen everything up before you head off for Slumberland.
4) Stay away from alcohol
Teeth grinding tends to worsen after excessive alcohol consumption, so drink wisely. This may be partly because the quality of sleep is affected by heavy boozing sessions. More disturbed sleep means less rest and more nocturnal activity, which might include more teeth grinding.
5) Quit chewing gum and delicious pen lids
If you chew gum, then don't - or at least, not very often. Constant chewing of gum (or pens, pen lids, or table legs...just kidding) just gets your jaws used to clamping. Remember, you want to re-condition them to be more relaxed and less active more of the time.
6) Stop teeth grinding by melting stress away
Because so much bruxism is caused by stress, it makes sense to relax deeply. Think of stress as like water in a bucket which you carry around with you. If you don't empty it now and then, it can overflow from the slightest knock or nudge. It's the same with stress: if you don't 'empty the stress' by regular relaxation, then any small life knock can leave you feeling flooded with tension.
Mind and body relaxation will help calm the muscles of your whole body, including your jaw. Take time out once a day to listen to a relaxation CD. Or just close your eyes and focus on your breathing, then take your mind to each part of your body, imagining the different parts relaxing in turn.
If you know how to use self-hypnosis, then use this time to make suggestions to your own unconscious mind to stop teeth grinding.
Or let me help you relax quickly by clicking the free audio link below.
7) Really get what you need
We all have basic emotional and physical needs. If we consistently fail to meet these needs, we feel stressed. And, as you know, the more stressed you are, the more likely you are to grind your teeth. Being clear about what these needs are means you can work towards meeting them effectively.
You have a need:
- For adequate and healthy nutrition, exercise, sleep, and water.
- To feel safe and secure in life.
- To regularly give and receive quality attention.
- To feel a sense of influence and control over your life.
- To feel part of a wider community.
- To enjoy friendship, fun, love, and intimacy with significant people.
- To feel a sense of status; basically, to feel you have a recognizable role in life. This also connects to a sense of competence and achievement.
- To feel stretched but not stressed so you can avoid boredom and stagnation. This also enhances your self-esteem.
So if you do feel particularly stressed at present, think about how well the above needs are being met in your life. Meeting them better may help you quickly stop teeth grinding.
Follow these tips and teeth grinding will be a past irritation, not a current 'nightmare'.