Do you ever find yourself grinding your teeth during stressful moments? Perhaps a loved one has told you that you grind your teeth while asleep? You’re not alone. According to the Sleep Foundation, around 8% of middle-aged adults experience night-time teeth grinding (also known as bruxism), while up to 50% of children are affected.
As well as creating an irritating – even unsettling – noise, bruxism can damage your teeth. You may experience increased sensitivity to your favorite hot and cold foods, damaged fillings, and even cracked teeth. To make matters worse, chronic grinding of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) can lead to sleep disorders, headaches, shoulder pain, earache, facial pain, and more.
Fortunately, bruxism is treatable – in many cases through drug-free training regimens! In this handy article, we’ve put together a quick guide to stopping your jaw from grinding.
First things first: What causes bruxism?
Before we list some of the most effective exercises for treating bruxism, it’s worth pointing out that the disorder is often caused by stress and anxiety. If you’re experiencing mental health issues, your teeth grinding issues may be linked.
Finding new ways to relax and decompress, such as meditation, yoga, mindfulness, or listening to music could alleviate your urge to grind your teeth. Similarly, assessing your lifestyle and taking action to create a better work-life balance could help to reduce feelings of stress.
For those with significant anxiety problems, visiting your local doctor or mental healthcare professional could help address your negative feelings and improve your quality of life. In the long term, treating mental health problems could also lower your blood pressure, improve your sleep quality, and enhance your cognitive abilities. It’s a win-win!
- The awareness exercise
This exercise is very simple, and will help you determine what triggers cause your bruxism. Plus, you can do it whenever you get a free moment in the day. Here’s how to go about it:
- Consciously place your tongue against the backs of your upper teeth.
- Breathe in and out slowly. If you feel the urge to grind your teeth, think about what may have triggered this urge.
The more you do this task, the more likely you will find the precise causes of your bruxism. The more aware you are of your triggers, the better you will be at fighting the urge to grind your teeth.
- The side-to-side exercise
For this exercise, you’ll need a clean item measuring about a quarter of an inch thick. You’ll be putting the object in your mouth, so something like a tongue depressor will work perfectly. Once you’re ready with your item, carry out the following steps:
- Place the item between your front teeth.
- Gently move your jaw from side to side.
- As your jaw becomes stronger, feel free to increase the thickness of the item you’re placing between your teeth.
- The goldfish exercise
As with many of these exercises, this movement will make you look a little silly, so find somewhere private before you try it out! Here’s how to do it:
- Place one index finger on your TMJ and the other under your bottom lip.
- Press your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
- Slowly lower your bottom jaw, opening your mouth in the process.
- Close your mouth.
- Repeat this action at least six times.
- The resistance exercise
This movement will help to strengthen your jaw and is very easy to remember. Steps include:
- Stand straight and comfortably.
- Make a fist, extending your thumb and placing it under your chin.
- Push your thumb against your chin while gently opening your mouth.
- Hold your mouth open for around five seconds, ensuring that your thumb provides some resistance.
- Close your mouth slowly and repeat a few times.
- The forward movement exercise
This exercise is a little like the side-to-side exercise mentioned above. Again, you’ll need an item about a quarter of an inch thick that you’re happy to place in your mouth. Then, carry out the following steps:
- Place the object between your front teeth.
- Slowly move your jaw forward so that your bottom teeth sit in front of your upper teeth.
- Move your jaw out of an underbite position and repeat as many times as desired.
- The chin tuck
Chin tucks are simple and very effective at relieving jaw pain. Steps include:
- Stand up straight, with your shoulders back.
- Pull your chin backwards, creating a kind of double-chin (or perhaps even triple or quadruple chin!)
- Hold this position for three seconds and repeat the exercise.
- The massage exercise
Massages can help to reduce tension in the body and provide effective pain relief. For TMJ issues, self-massage across the jaw, cheeks, head, neck, and jaw joint can reduce the urge to grind the teeth.
Are there any other treatments available?
On top of the exercises listed above, there are a few treatments you can try to improve the symptoms of bruxism and protect your teeth, including:
- Mouth guards: A mouth guard (also known as a night guard or teeth guard) can help prevent jaw clenching and teeth grinding. Some mouth guards could also help realign your jaw and reduce tension in this area. If you want a mouthguard that fits your teeth and jaw, you’ll need assistance from a doctor.
- Warm compresses: A warm towel or compress could help relieve the pain associated with bruxism.
Lifestyle changes: Simple steps such as avoiding biting your lower lip, avoiding chewing gum, and eating a diet of softer foods could help reduce your TMJ pain and improve your quality of life.
Don’t suffer in silence: Give these exercises a shot!
If you’ve been diagnosed with bruxism, you may feel a little lost about what to do. We encourage you to try these exercises at least once a day and address any lifestyle problems that could be contributing to the problem. Your teeth will thank you in the long run!