If you’ve been catching yourself grinding your teeth and clenching your jaw a bit more often than usual, you may wonder what’s going on. This reaction is common when we’re angry, which is why you see that grrrrr and jaw clench in cartoons.
You don’t have to be feeling particularly Hulk-ish for your jaw muscles to kick into gear. They react that way when you’re stressed and anxious, even subconsciously.
However, if you’re doing this while you’re awake, there’s a good chance you’re also grinding in your sleep. This condition, called bruxism, can cause a lot of damage to your body.
Before your grinding habits worsen, let’s look at factors that lead to bruxism and find out how you can avoid this nighttime dental problem.
Our bodies use energy all day to do everything. You’re burning energy when you sit on your couch and watch TV.
But, as you know, each task uses a different amount of energy. If you’re overstimulating yourself and not burning off that excess power, it has to go somewhere.
How Your Body Gets Too Much Stimulation
One way we tend to overstimulate our bodies is by drinking and eating products with caffeine. Think about the last time you swore you needed that cup of coffee or caffeinated cola to get you through the day. If you didn’t engage in enough activity to get rid of it, your body stays overstimulated, although you might still feel sleepy.
Try to Avoid These Stimulating Activities Before Bed
Other ways we overstimulate ourselves include watching action-packed movies before bed, indulging in screentime at night, and waiting until the last minute to do important tasks.
Bright lights and loud noises before bedtime skyrocket your nerves, and you don’t have a chance to release the extra stimulation.
All of this extra energy is released when you sleep. Your brain signals your jaw muscles to clench and grind, the power disappears, and you start over the next day.
The only problem is that since your body was still working all night instead of resting, you probably feel extra tired when you wake up. So, in an ironic twist, the caffeine you’re drinking to stay awake is likely what’s keeping you from getting restful sleep.
2. Chewing Habits
Are you always looking for things you can chew on, like ice cubes, pen caps, or your nails? These habits are a quick way to develop bruxism.
Because your jaw is used to the grinding and clenching it does all day, over time, it will keep looking for ways to chew at night. Those muscles get used to the movement, and the only thing they can “chew” on when you’re sleeping is your teeth.
As with any bad habit, it’s not easy to stop chewing immediately. Instead, while you’re working on quitting, use a night guard to prevent grinding damage. You may notice some side effects as you first get used to wearing this oral appliance. As long as it’s the right fit for your mouth, they should go away within a few days.
By far, the number one cause of bruxism is stress. If you’re dealing with ongoing stress and anxiety, you’re 97% more likely to grind your teeth at night.
As if the stress itself wasn’t enough; now, you get to deal with the effects of it while you’re sleeping, right?
Your body handles stress by releasing cortisol. The right amount of cortisol can be a good thing, alerting you when you should be paying attention to something that could be dangerous or important.
Chronic stress means you’re producing this hormone faster than you can release it. Once again, your brain kicks in while you’re sleeping to take care of the problem by having your jaw grind the cortisol away.
Getting physically active is the best way to reduce cortisol levels yourself and prevent bruxism. While we can’t magically make your stress go away, we can suggest some ways for you to release it to help reduce your grinding.
Exercise, heading out for a walk in nature, journaling, and eating a healthy diet are four quick methods experts recommend to relieve stress. Try one or all of them until you find something that helps you feel better and brux less.
Grinding and clenching our jaw are movements we make every day. There’s nothing wrong with them; they’re completely natural. When you start doing this frequently enough that you notice discomfort and pain, you could be on the path to bruxism.
If you have any of these three factors, it’s time to grab a night guard and start working on preventative bruxism treatments.