A young girl having pain because of jaw clenching

How Can I Stop Jaw Clenching?

Jaw clenching is a common health problem. About 10% of the adults and 15% of the kids unconsciously clench their jaw. However, because jaw clinching mostly happens while sleeping, you might not know that you are clenching your teeth. Dr. Khalifeh will discuss the causes, signs, and symptoms of jaw / teeth clenching? Additionally, he will give you tips that could help stop clenching your jaw / teeth?

How Do You Know if You are Clenching Your Jaw?

Jaw clenching even when it happens unconsciously may cause many symptoms. Therefore, if you have one or more of the following signs and symptoms, you are more likely to be suffering from clenching:

  • Soreness on the facial muscles specially when you wake up from sleep
  • Morning headache in the temple area
  • Jaw tightness
  • Jaw soreness while chewing food of gum
  • Unable to keep your mouth open for long time during dental visits
  • Clicking or popping jaw sound
  • Locked jaw
  • Limited mouth opening
  • Ear fullness
  • Tinnitus
  • Ear ache
  • Square face shape
  • Broken teeth and dental restorations
  • Indentation of the tongue side
  • Pain and sensitivity in your teeth
  • Neck and shoulder pain and tightness

The following are some common questions frequently asked by patients who clench their teet:

  • Why I clench my jaw / teeth?
  • Is it bad to clench my jaw / teeth?
  • How do I stop clenching?
  • Is there any treatment for teeth clenching? 

Let’s answer these questions and more.  

Why Do I Clench My Jaw?

Clenching is multifactorial and is associated with many conditions. While the exact etiology is not clear, the following conditions are listed as possible causes of jaw and teeth clenching: 

  1. Stress: this may be one of the most common causes for teeth clenching. This is 100% correct if you find your self clenching your teeth during daytime. However, stress can make night-time clenching worse. Night-time clenching is more likely to cause morning headache and facial pain. Therefore, Dr. Khalifeh recommend using stress reduction protocol to relief pain associated with stress induced jaw clenching.
  2. Genetics: this is more likely associated with night-time jaw clinching and teeth grinding. Several scientific studies revealed that night-time clenching which include both unconscious teeth grinding and jaw clenching is associated with missing Serotonin receptors in the trigeminal motor center. Therefore, using Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRI) antidepressant medications may induce clenching jaw syndrome.
  3. Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder also called TMD: TMJ dysfunction are multiple conditions affecting the jaw joint, the chewing muscles and associated ligaments and fascia. TMD can cause jaw pain which could increase stress level causing more clenching. In other words, clenching may cause TMD. On the other hand, TMD might cause clenching. It is a cycle of events that one problem will induce the other problem. Treating TMD will certainly help ease jaw clenching. TMJ disorder include: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, myalgia and myofasial pain syndrome. These conditions are not limited to the TMJ, they can affect other body joints and muscles.

Other Causes of Jaw Clenching

  1. Drugs and Medications: as mentioned earlier, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) Medications used to treat depression may induce clenching as part of their side effects. Therefore, switching the medication may help stop and relief clinching symptoms. Central Nervous System stimulants such as Amphetamines and caffeine may also cause clenching and teeth grinding.
  2. Oro-motor disorders such as Dystonia: Dystonia causes one or more of the muscles to contract unwillingly causing pain and repetitive movement. This neurologic condition can cause social distress. BOTOX for jaw clenching is one of the most effective treatments available for dystonia.
  3. Tetanus: this is a life-threatening bacterial infection contracted when infected soil touches an open wound. Tetanus can cause sever skeletal muscles contraction including the jaw muscles. It can also cause damage to the heart and paralyze the breathing muscle. An effective vaccine is available for tetanus. It’s highly recommend that everyone get the tetanus vaccine and the boosters every few years as recommended by the CDC.

How to Stop Jaw / Teeth Clenching?

It might not be possible to stop unconscious clinching. However, the treatment goal is to relief the TMJ symptoms and prevent teeth and jaw damage. The best treatment is to remove the cause. However, removing the causes for clenching is not an easy task. The following techniques may help reduce or stop jaw / teeth clenching:

  1. Life style change: this include choosing the right foods for TMJ, avoiding bad habits such as excessive gum chewing, smoking, caffeine and finger nails biting, etc..
  2. Jaw exercises
  3. Use stress reduction protocol
  4. Physical therapy
  5. Use a mouth guard
  6. BOTOX for Jaw clenching
  7. Message therapy
  8. Acupuncture
  9. Hypnosis
  10. Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT)
  11. Use transcutaneous nerve stimulation (TENS)

Now You Know You Clench Your Jaw, Which Specialist You Need to See?

Because clenching may cause facial pain, headache, and damage to the teeth, restorations and the gums, we highly recommend that you seek help ASAP. Early treatment will protect your teeth, Jaw and TMJ from irreversible damage. Choosing the right specialist is very important.

Dr. Khalifeh is a TMJ and Orofacial pain specialist with 25 years of clinical and teaching experience. For consultation contact us by email or call us at: (323) 933-3855.

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