Teeth grinding, medically dubbed “bruxism”, can be extremely damaging to the teeth, as well as cause jaw pain and headaches. Although the exact cause of bruxism is unknown, it is often attributed to stress, malocclusions (misaligned teeth), medication side effects, and a variety of other factors. However, unless you need dental work to adjust your jaw or teeth, there isn’t much that can be done by a doctor. Here are a few treatments for teeth grinding you can try at home.
Since grinding your teeth isn’t exactly dangerous, the biggest concern is how much damage it will cause your teeth. Chips, fractures, and loose teeth can all appear. If your bruxism is not severe enough to cause considerable damage or leave you with frequent morning jaw pain, guarding your teeth may be sufficient to manage grinding your teeth. While your dentist might prescribe a pricey “occlusal splint” made specifically for you, these aren’t strictly necessary of milder cases. A night guard is available over the counter at pharmacies for much less money.
Much like mouth guards used for sports, night guards for grinding your teeth are made of a thick, squishy material. You can boil the product in water, then place it on your upper or lower row of teeth (whichever you plan to wear it on), and the material will take on the form of your teeth, allowing you to hold it in place through the night and protecting your teeth from each other.
Much like the muscles in your neck or back may tend to become tight and sore during periods of heightened or extended stress, bruxism can be a physical reaction to emotional turmoil. If you (or your partner) notice your teeth grinding gets worse when you are stressed out or anxious, take steps to nip it in the bud. Take a bath before bed, allowing your muscles to relax and sending your body the message of relation. Read a book to give your mind something to think about instead of all the things you have to do tomorrow. Whatever form of relaxation works for you, take it up and learn to let go of some of the stressors affecting your sleep.
Similarly, make sure your sleep is at its best. Not getting enough sleep over an extended period of time can lower the quality of your sleep in general and make teeth grinding worse. Avoid things that can interfere with your sleep and are known (or at least suspected) to make bruxism worse. This means no caffeine in the evenings, avoiding too much alcohol, and giving up smoking cigarettes.
Dealing With Side Effects
Aside from damaging your teeth, severe and frequent grinding of the teeth can cause problems with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) -- your jaw. It can cause a lot of pain in the surrounding muscles, and even into the face. Additionally, because of where the joint is located beneath the temples, you may experience headaches that feel as if they come from your temples. To manage this discomfort, try wet heat or ice to ease sore muscles.
In addition to the previous dietary concerns, avoid foods that make your jaws work -- no gum, nuts, steak, chewy/hard candies, or other foods that strain the jaw muscles (not to mention teeth). Additionally, you can learn relaxation techniques specifically for your jaw and face that may relieve some pain as well as helping to ease grinding. If none of these things help, it may be time to talk to your dentist.