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Here’s What You Need to Know About Jaw Clenching

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Do you frequently wake up with a splitting headache and aching facial muscles? Or do you have a stiff and achy jaw every time you chew? You could be unknowingly clenching your jaw while sleeping! 

But why can’t I stop clenching my jaw?” You might probably ask. 

People who clench their teeth and jaw may be unaware of the habit as it often happens while they sleep. Tightness in the jaw can be caused by a variety of factors such as anxiety or stress, TMJ disorder, excessive chewing, bruxism and other dental issues which we will discuss in detail in this blog.


What causes jaw clenching?  

  1. Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMD or TMJ) 

TMD is typically caused by temporomandibular joint dysfunction, which causes pain in the jaw joint and surrounding muscles. The hinge that connects your jaw to the rest of your skull is your TMJ. This particular joint is the one that provides you with the range of motion required to chew food, speak and yawn. TMJ pain can be caused by the force that grinding and clenching your teeth exerts on your jaw.

TMD symptoms may include: 

  • Soreness or pain in the jaw, ear, neck or face
  • Constant headaches and “jaw popping”
  •  Difficulty chewing or opening one’s jaw
     2.  Stress and anxiety 

Stress and anxiety are two of the most common contributors to jaw clenching and muscle tension. When stressed, an individual may unconsciously clench their jaw or grind their teeth (bruxism) during the day or while sleeping. This can cause facial muscles to tighten over time, or worse, lead to more serious dental problems such as cracking, fracturing, chipping or even loosening of teeth. 

Other stress indicators include: 

  • Muscle tension in the shoulders and neck 
  • Clenching of the fist 

Because of stress, some people frequently find themselves grinding their teeth during exam periods or tough times at work. If stress and anxiety are affecting your daily life, we’ve included some solutions to address those, so read on. 

    3.  Teeth grinding (Bruxism)

People who are prone to grinding their teeth often do so during sleep. Often, the first indication of this habit is sound. It’s not uncommon for a partner, spouse or parent to hear someone grinding their teeth while sleeping. In the middle of the night, your partners or parents may hear loud grinding noises. Teeth grinding is also more common when you’re sleeping because the pressure is on your teeth more than when you are awake. 

The symptoms of bruxism can be subtle at first, but if left untreated, they can lead to permanent damage. If you grind your teeth, you may experience symptoms upon waking up, but they will pass quickly. If you clench your jaws during the daytime, your symptoms will usually be more noticeable later in the day. 

Other signs of chronic bruxism include: 

  • Tooth or jaw pain, especially when waking up or eating breakfast
  • Intolerance to hot & cold foods and drinks
  • Headaches
  • Facial discomfort or stiffness, especially after waking up 
  • Earaches
  • Sensitive teeth, broken teeth or feeling of loss of teeth
  • Difficulty opening your mouth wide
    4.  Sleep disorders

Sleep apnea can seriously harm one’s health. A person with sleep apnea may experience more than 100 sleep interruptions in one night. As a result of this sleep condition, your breathing stops repeatedly throughout the night and prevents critical brain functions from taking place while you’re asleep. This sleep issue frequently comes from the tongue blocking the breathing airway. Consequently, your body’s natural response is to try to reopen the airway by grinding your teeth. Along with bruxism, sleep apnea patients may also have additional symptoms such as fatigue, sleep paralysis, hallucinations while being semi-conscious, restless sleep, dry throat, forgetfulness, mood swings and even depression. 

    5.  Harmful habits 

Some aspects of your lifestyle may contribute to your jaw-clenching habits. For instance, nighttime bruxism may develop if you consistently consume too much caffeine, smoke cigarettes, or consume too much alcohol. Adults who consume excessive amounts of alcohol and tobacco, particularly late at night, are also more likely to have bruxism. Both substances have an impact on the sleep cycle (especially when taken together) and may cause frequent REM disruptions or insomnia. These symptoms frequently go hand in hand with teeth grinding. 


How to stop jaw clenching? 

Jaw clenching happens for a number of reasons, and its effectiveness depends on what’s causing you to grind your jaw.

  1.  Reduce stress

One of the main factors contributing to jaw clenching and teeth grinding is stress. If you think it’s due to excessive stress or anxiety, it’s best to address the source of the stress. Try the following tips to relieve stress and prevent jaw discomfort: 

  • Exercise. Exercise lowers stress by releasing feel-good endorphins. Start slowly if you’re new to working out. Try gradually incorporating daily exercise into your routine. You can relieve the tightness in your jaw and prevent teeth from grinding by relaxing your jaw muscles through certain exercises. 
  • Practice mindfulness. Pay attention to any daytime clenching of your teeth. Keep your lips together, teeth apart, and tongue hidden behind your front teeth as you try to stop yourself. As you fall asleep, pay attention to the strain in your jaw.
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     Actively relax and loosen each jaw and face muscle if you’re having trouble pinpointing the cause of the stiffness. If you awaken in the middle of the night, practice relaxing once more before going back to sleep. 
  • Remain optimistic. Actively getting rid of negative ideas is a good practice. Spend five minutes before going to bed addressing your fears by jotting down your feelings and ideas in a journal. This routine can assist in reducing any anxious thoughts and feelings that might be causing jaw clenching at night. 
  • Ask your partner for support. Ask your partner to wake you up the next time they hear you grinding your teeth if you’re keeping them up at night. Repeat the mindfulness exercise before going back to sleep.

     2.  Avoid caffeine and alcohol 

Consuming stimulants like coffee, chocolate, soda, or tea after dinner might affect the quality of your sleep and increase your likelihood of teeth clenching while you’re asleep. Avoid engaging in stimulating activities to relax your mind and body before bed and prevent clenching. Alcohol is also known to have a negative effect on the quality of your sleep, so it’s best to avoid drinking at night if you experience nighttime teeth clenching. 

     3.  Change your diet

One of the best ways to lessen jaw discomfort is to choose foods that don’t put too much pressure on the jaw as you eat or bite. This means cutting out chewy, hard and crunchy foods from your diet. You may wish to swap out the foods that aggravate TMJ pain with soft, anti-inflammatory and healthy alternatives. Baked salmon, scrambled eggs, avocado, yogurt, tofu, smoothies and soups are examples of foods that help with jaw discomfort. 

     4.  Wear a night guard 

Night guards, sometimes called mouth guards or dental splints, are worn while you sleep to prevent jaw clenching. These mouthpieces help fasten the jaw in a particular position and can act as a barrier to lessen the risk of teeth grinding which causes damage.

Some night guards also expand the jaw slightly, which helps the masseter muscles (muscles for chewing) to relax throughout the night. A night guard may only cover a smaller part of the mouth, or it may cover the entire upper or lower teeth. 

Custom night guards typically function better for heavy grinders because they are customized to your exact needs. You can consult with your dentist about which option is best for you.

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ClearClub to the rescue 

Trying a night guard first can be the best solution and most cost-effective way to solve your jaw pain and other dental problems. Custom night guards are carefully designed to perfectly fit your mouth so that you can avoid the unhealthy habit of jaw clenching. With materials that have received FDA approval, you don’t have to worry because they are non-allergenic, BPA-free, and latex-free. ClearClub offers a wide range of mouth protection options – including multi-color guards – so you can find the right one for your needs and  sleep comfortably every night.