Do you need to know how to stop clenching your jaw from stress? A huge 1 in 10 people suffer from this awful condition. By the end of this post, you’ll know more about the problem and how to solve it.
If you find that you are walking up with a terrible headache and a sore face there is a very good chance you could be clenching your jaw during the night. Jaw clenching is a real pain (excuse the pun) and it can be due to a any of a number of reasons. One of these reasons can be stress. Whatever the reason, it can mean that you can suffer terribly. In some rare cases you could even experience life-changing illness.
Aside from the pain you might experience, other signs that you could be clenching your jaw at night (or any other time for that matter) include:
- You experience limited range of motion when your mouth is open
- A feeling that your jaw is ‘locking’
- A clicking sound in the jaw (‘TMJ’)
- You might find that your teeth are actually painful, with tooth damage a real possibility. In some cases you can even experience loosening of the teeth
- Your jaw may be paiful and sore
- While you eat, you might experience significant pain
Any one of these symptoms is a good reason to go and see a dentist. There are plenty of good dentists out there who understand that such pain and discomfort can be distressing so if dentists do generally bring you more stress just look for one that offers ‘anxiety-free’ treatment.
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of why we clench our jaws in the first place. Understanding the cause of your jaw issues can really help when it comes to treatment.
Grinding our teeth (Bruxism)
This is very common and can be caused by a number of reasons. You could have misaligned teeth, which can cause you to grind them together. Or you may have sleep apnea.
One of the most common causes of bruxism is stress. If we experience stress during the day we could ‘take it to bed’ and end up grinding our teeth while we sleep. Teeth grinding is a real problem because of the discomfort, as well as it being one of the causes of jaw clenching. Check out this study here for further information on just how common it is.
How to stop clenching jaw from stress – The signs of bruxism
- Disrupted sleep.
- Headaches or facial pain, especially in the morning.
- Painful or loose teeth (even loss of teeth)
- Sore jaw muscles.
- Teeth fractures and teeth damage.
- Worn-down teeth or excessive wear on the teeth.
- TMJ, which sounds like clicking or popping in the jaw.
- Pain with eating.
- Tight jaw and jaw locking.
Note: the above symptoms of bruxism are not exhaustive.
The good news is that teeth grinding can be cured. This is especially true for day time bruxism (sometimes called awake bruxism). There are also plenty of treatments for night bruxism too.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
This is most commonly known as TMJ or TMD. Temporomandibular joint disorders can be a real nightmare, sometimes going undiagnosed for years. They can give you terrible jaw pain and muscle pain, and can even lead to eating problems whereby your levels of nutrition are at risk. This makes it a key cause of bruxism.
TMJ disorder has a number of causes. The pain it brings can lead to serious consequences though, including permanent dental damage, and even mental health problems. A health proffesional can diagnose temporomandibular disorder quickly, so it is well worth seeking an appointment sooner rather than later.
Over or excessive chewing
Remember when your parents told you not to chew gum because it was bad for you? They may have had a point.
If you are one of life’s ‘chewers’ and you like gum, or chewing pen tops etc. then you could be looking at some issues around clenching of your jaw.
Tetanus is also called lockjaw and is a common cause of jaw clenching and grinding teeth. It is actually a bacterial infection and can develop and spread very quickly. Your healthcare provider will have to be involved if you develop tetanus. It can be very serious and even lead to death.
As one of the more serious medical conditions it does need swift treatment with vaccinations. This should not be an issue for the average person if they are up to date with their vaccination plan.
Many people have some form of sleep disorder. If you have obstructive sleep apnea your breathing is affected while you sleep. During sleep apnea your brain and central nervous system will send signals to your body to clench your jaw. It can also cause sleep bruxism. In severe cases, long-term sleep apnea and other disorders can cause serious damage to your teeth.
Stress and anxiety disorders can lead to clenching of the jaw while you sleep and during the day. The whole thing is unconcious, with highly stressful events or long-term anxiety bringing tension to the whole body, not just jaw tension.
There is a clear link to stress causing problems for your overall health. Too much stress can bring about jaw clenching and bruxism (both daytime bruxism and nighttime bruxism).
How to stop clenching jaw from stress: Ways to manage excessive jaw clenching
Jaw pain that comes from jaw clenching and teeth clenching can be extremely uncomfortable. Here is what to do about it.
Jaw joint stretch
This is a really simple exercise to do and should bring relief if you do it on a regular basis.
- Rest the tip of your tongue behind the upper front teeth
- Lower the bottom half of your jaw so the lower teeth move away from the upper teeth
This technique helps quite quickly, by stretching and relieving muscle tension and tightness in the lower jaw and the neck area.
Manual jaw opening
- Warm up your mouth by opening it slowly a few times. Only open it slightly. This will allow your mouth to become a little more relaxed
- Place your fingers on the tops of the front four bottom teeth
- Pull down slowly until it starts to feel a little uncomfortable
- Hold for thirty seconds
- Release slowly
- Do this three times and then focus on extending until you can manage twelve repetitions
Using a night guard
A night guard or a mouth splint has been specially designed to protect your mouth when you are sleeping. It is not always possible to purchase a bite guard that can meet your own physical requirements so it is important to consult with your dentist first. Splint therapy can be very effective. Using a mouth guard may be a little tricky at first, but once you are used to it you’ll start to see enourmous benefits.
Open up your mouth and then gently massage the area just below your ears. You will find that, not only is it an incredibly pleasant and satsifying feeling, but also a great way to apply gentle treatment for jaw clenching pain. Make sure to rub in a circular motion a few times a day.
The food you eat
If you are suffering from sore jaw muscles or general pain caused by clenching, then look into eating softer foods. Getting used to making smoothies for breakfast is just one way to make a huge difference to your pain management. It’s not for life, but just until the pain is less intense.
How to manage stress
If stress is one of the main causes of jaw clenching and teeth grinding, what can we do to reduce it?
There is no best way to manage stress but there are many aspects to stress management. Try the following ideas and you should find a good fit for your particular lifestyle.
Regular exercise needn’t be strenuous. Just twenty minutes of gentle exertion a day is good, and will ensure that your mind is taken off some of the intense stressors it can be filled with.
Most importantly, when you are exercising, your brain clears as you focus completely on the task at hand. This automatically reduces stress.
With good organisation, you can get control of your day. Stress only develops when you feel like you have no capacity to manage a task or situation. But if you organise yourself more effectively, you will find capacity.
There are thousands of methods and tools you can get hold of that will give you more control over your life. Look into them and get curious. Your life isn’t meant to be stressful all the time. Organise it.
This actually works well. Find a group in the local community that shares your interests and join it. It’s the best way to meet new people and to develop a support network. Just being able to chat to people on a regular basis outside of your daily life can help to reduce stress.
You can build confidence by setting goals and challenges, whether at work or outside. It may help you cope with stress in the long run. Also, it can inspire you to get active.
Make sure you’re relaxed with relaxation techniques
Relaxation techniques can help remove stress very quickly.
Make sure you’re all set before you relax:
- The best space for any relaxation technique is a quiet, cool room. You musn’t be disturbed
- You don’t have to lie down but you can if you want. Or you could just sit comfortably with your legs uncrossed
- Remove any footwear and try to ensure you are wearing loose-fitting clothing
- Close your eyes. If you’re not comfortable with this, look at a spot in front of you
- Focus on your breathing
With breathing, it is all about developing the ability to focus.
When you’re breathing, you can sometimes breathe too quickly and in a shallow way. This is not good and it can create more stress. Try the following exercise to help get your breathing back to normal.
Here’s how to control your breathing:
- Hold your chest with one hand and your stomach with the other. Your stomach should move more than your chest when you breathe.
- Inhale slowly and regularly (preferably through your nose). Breathe in while watching your hands. You should move your stomach, not your chest.
- Slowly exhale.
- Do this twice a day, 10 times.
Getting the hang of this might take a while. Your hands won’t need to be on your stomach anymore once you’ve got it down.
How to stop clenching your jaw from stress
It’s clear that jaw clenching and bruxism can be brought on or worsened by stress. if you’re suffering from either of these two issues, consider the tips above.