Have you been told to ‘keep a stiff upper lip’ and took it literally? This may be the case with teeth clenching and grinding. If you are used to clenching your teeth ever so often, you may also be familiar with the soaring pain and discomfort you feel in your head, ears, teeth, face, and neck. Teeth clenching is not only isolated to a tight jaw but can also cause referred pain to many parts of your body. The intensity of pain can vary from sharp to throbbing, and tender to severe. In addition, you may also experience a limited range of motion when you open your mouth. The big question here is why. Why are you an advent (although, involuntary) teeth clench-er? 4Smile brings to you the top 4 reasons why you may be engaging in teeth clenching.
What causes teeth clenching?
Teeth clenching and grinding is considered to have a multifactorial etiology, thought to be associated with peripheral factors (such as tooth interference in dental occlusion), psychosocial influences (such as stress or anxiety), and central or pathophysiological causes (such as brain neurotransmitters).
Stress and Anxiety
Responses to negative emotions like stress, anxiety, and anger can cause you to inadvertently clench your teeth even without you noticing. If you are under a load of stress or are feeling immensely overwhelmed, chances are you may react to that ‘larger than yourself’ emotion with a little stiffness. Sleep bruxism may manifest itself if you have not completely addressed a stressful situation when you are awake and have suppressed heavy emotions as a result of it. You may also engage in teeth clenching, when awake if you are thinking really hard or concentrating, even without you noticing. In fact, a direct correlation between stress and bruxism was dug out, according to a study done in Brazil. 50.2% of people under stress were found to also exhibit signs of bruxism.
What can you do about it?: Meditation, relaxation techniques, and psychoanalysis can help alleviate teeth grinding and clenching caused by stress and anxiety. It is also wise to acknowledge stress instead of burying it, in stressful periods such as examinations, family bereavement, divorce or marriage, relocating, overworking, etc.
One of the most common causes of bruxism is the inherent presence of another sleep disorder, like chronic snoring or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). These conditions can cause interruptions in sleep and obstructive breathing. A person suffering from sleep apnea can actually get interrupted more than 100 times in one night. Teeth clenching is a common symptom of sleep apnea, according to many valid sources. This occurs when the throat muscles relax during the night, subsequently blocking the airway and interrupting breathing. Nearly one in every four people with OAS grind their teeth at night, with men more likely to be affected as compared to women. Some experts even claim that a temporary loss of muscle function while sleeping, known popularly as sleep paralysis can also precipitate teeth clenching.
What can you do about it?: Managing sleep apnea may also help nix nighttime teeth grinding. Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and quitting smoking are fundamental steps to help get rid of sleep apnea, and subsequently teeth clenching. If the culprit behind your sleep apnea is nasal allergies, you should get treated for it as soon as possible. Your doctor may recommend a dental guard or oral splint to prevent damage to the teeth caused by teeth grinding and clenching. Furthermore, the use of a continuous positive airway pressure device (CPAP) is a common treatment of sleep apnea, whereby a mask is fitted over your nose during sleep and the air is continuously pumped to clear obstructed airways.
Substance-based habits such as tobacco use, alcohol consumption, and even excessive caffeine consumption can perpetuate the cycle of bruxism.
- Excessive caffeine
Caffeinated drinks are known to give you the jitters and a sugar caffeine beverage can take you on a sugar high. Drinking caffeinated drinks, such as soda, high-energy beverages, tea, and coffee (six or more cups a day) increases your risks of bruxism. There seems to be a connection between nighttime caffeine consumption and teeth clenching during sleep as caffeine elevates your energy and heart rate, giving risk to these destructive symptoms.
Try switching to decaf or water after 3 pm to minimize your risks if teeth clenching and grinding.
Tobacco is a stimulant and affects the dopaminergic pathways, the system responsible for the executive functions like learning, rewards, and motivation. Bruxism is twice as common in smokers as it is in non-smokers with sleep bruxism episodes frequenting up to five times a night!
Quit smoking. You may visit your dentist for tobacco cessation programs for the wellbeing of your oral and general health.
Drinking alcohol excessively doubles a person’s chance of developing sleep bruxism. Alcohol is known to break up one’s sleep patterns and induce poor frequent REM interruption or sleeplessness. If you sleep poorly, this triggers the muscles to hyperactivate and the teeth to grind.
Try cutting back on, or quitting altogether.
Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD)
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) acts like a sliding hinge connecting our jawbone to our skull. We have one TMJ on each side of the jaw to help use effectively open and close our mouths. Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) causes pain in the jaw joint and the surrounding muscles that control the jaw movements. The pain may arise as a result of the locking of one or both hinge joints into each other. It is characterized by aching or throbbing pain and feelings of tenderness around the ear, jaw, and face. It is estimated that up to 20% of the population bruxes have symptoms of TMD.
What can you do about it?: Jaw exercises can significantly improve the severity of temporomandibular joint disorders. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen can help manage TMJ pain. Muscle relaxers may be prescribed for severe pain. You may also try mouth guards to help realign your jaw and acupuncture to relieve pressure in the affected area. Furthermore, patients should be made aware of “sleep hygiene” that involves:
- Avoiding large meals, alcohol, and caffeine within three hours of bedtime
- Improving the sleep environment by ensuring low or no light, minimal noise, no pets or children in the bedroom when sleeping
- Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day
If you have been troubled by your nocturnal grinding and clenching, book your appointment with the finest doctors with the help of 4Smile and get rid of this destructive habit.