The most important thing you can do as soon as you realize you’re clenching your teeth is to consult a professional. Sometimes the problem will be pointed out to you straightforwardly during a regular dental check-up, but at other times, you will have to look at telltale symptoms like a headache concentrated in your temples, or jaw pains.
Either way, reach out to your dentist especially if you’re unsure. The reason this is so important is because clenching and grinding can be a result of various factors including (but not limited to) underlying sleep disorders or certain medications, like SSRI antidepressants. A dental professional will take a close look at your bite, your teeth, and your mouth, and will be able to determine if you have underlying issues, too, like broken or chipped teeth or if your bite is misaligned.
As bruxism can be elusive to recognize, experts note it can very helpful to take some notes for your doctor or dentist regarding your experiences. For example, if you wake up with a headache it can be an indicator that you clench your teeth at night. Maybe you notice yourself clenching at a specific time of the day, like when you watch the news or when trying to work remotely. That might be a response to that stressor.
Keeping a log of when your discomfort appears, how long it lasts, and how exactly it manifests can help your dentist gain a much better understanding of the cause and treatments for the issue.
Mouthguards are occlusive splints that can protect the teeth from clenching damage, such as wearing down of the enamel. Mouthguards are worn overnight and they cushion your teeth from grinding against each other while you sleep. While there are over-the-counter mouthguards available, dental experts strongly advise getting one that is customized for you and certainly avoid any DIY options.
“I often tell patients, if I give you a shoe that’s not the right size, you’re going to have discomfort while walking,” said Shuchi Dhadwal, former director of the Craniofacial Pain Center at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. By wearing the wrong mouthguard for you, you risk worsening the problem and even causing severe bite changes or a locked jaw. If you strongly prefer to go for an OTC mouthguard, it’s best to at least talk to a dentist who can give you tips on how to form it to your mouth, which brand would be best, and more.
This prevention method may look simple but can be very effective. If you already know you have a tendency to clench your teeth during the day, actively reminding yourself to stop and separate your teeth can make a big difference.
There are free apps you can download, which send you gentle reminders throughout the day. If you prefer to go old-school, you could always stick a bunch of post-it notes around the house and on your belongings: in cupboards, on the remote control, on the refrigerator, and so on. The moment you relax your jaw and separate your teeth, you will feel immediate relief.
It’s not always clear why a person starts clenching or grinding their teeth, but as we pointed out at the beginning of the article, stress is very often a major contributor. And we happen to be living through a time of great uncertainty which can definitely cause stress.
It’s important to be aware of it and be willing to address it. A mouthguard can ease symptoms, but the problem will not be solved until you get to the root of it. Many dentists work closely with psychologists and mental health experts, so patients can learn stress reduction techniques, too. Those can include meditation, yoga, en exercise routine, spending more time outdoors, as well as therapy and medication.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with making your mental health a priority, so be attentive to the signs your body is sending you.
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