How do I stop teeth grinding?
Most people find out they're grinding their teeth from an annoyed spouse or from waking up with sore jaws, tight facial muscles, or headaches. When the top and bottom rows of teeth do not meet properly [a condition known as malocclusion], the jaw will shift around trying to find a better bite. This constant movement can cause the jaw muscles to clench and wear down teeth. Many dentists will recommend wearing a mouth guard to bed. In our office, we make very thin mouth guards that are custom-fit for each patient, so they're more comfortable to wear. Patients can keep them on all day [except when eating] to help train their jaws not to clench. You can also fix the malocclusion by getting fitted for Invisalign--a series of clear, removable teeth straighteners that move your teeth into their proper positions over time. --Lewis Gross, D.D.S., in private practice in New York City
If grinding is the result of unexpressed emotion--particularly anger--massage can have a dramatic impact, and it's even more effective when combined with therapy. [If you're grinding your teeth because of a problem with your jaw ligaments or tooth alignment, however, you should see an orthopedic medicine specialist or dentist.] My patients who grind their teeth find massage to be a little uncomfortable at first, so we work from one side of the face to the other in quick movements. Then we massage the entire head and neck region to relax that part of the body. Some self-massage techniques you can do include lying on your side and resting your cheek on a tennis ball for two to three minutes--the sustained pressure tricks your brain into relaxing the jaw muscles. Another is to bite down very gently on a cork; do this 5 to 10 minutes a day to ease tension in the jaw. --Ben Benjamin, Ph.D., massage therapist and author of Listen to Your Pain (Penguin, 2007)
Teeth grinding is often a way of dealing with tension. It may be that you're trying to indirectly release aggressive feelings that you can't unload without negative consequences. For example, you might resent having to submit to someone at work or in a relationship, or you may be resistant to change. If so, this could be an opportunity for personal growth. Begin by asking yourself if any of your relationships is a source of tension. Are unresolved issues in your life causing stress? In psychotherapy, we ask these questions to get patients to open up and release buried emotions; if you're not currently seeing a therapist, even just writing down the answers to these questions can help you understand your feelings better. Activities such as yoga, breathing exercises, or meditation can also help release pent-up aggravation by teaching you to live in the moment. --Marc Sholes, psychotherapist in private practice in New York City