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What can I do About Jaw Clenching?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Jaw clenching is a habit which can lead to jaw pain and a variety of dental problems. It may develop unconsciously in response to stress, dietary changes, medication, and a variety of other factors, and it often occurs during sleep, making it difficult to control. There are several approaches to dealing with this problem, all of which are designed to reduce the amount of clenching and grinding which occurs while addressing the underlying causes.

This habit is sometimes referred to as bruxism or teeth grinding. Many people are unaware that they are clenching their jaws until they develop tension, soreness, and pain in the jaw, or their teeth begin to experience problems related to jaw clenching. Some causes for clenching beyond those listed above include brain damage and congenital deformities in the jaw. Dentists, orthodontists, and ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists can all work with a patient to treat jaw clenching.

One of the most immediate approaches to bruxism is the use of a mouth guard or splint at night. The guard should ideally be fitted by a dentist, who can ensure that it fits the patient's mouth properly and comfortably, and it is designed to deal with clenching as it happens. In addition to using a guard, a patient may also need to explore the cause of the condition so that it can be addressed.

Physical therapy can sometimes be used to treat jaw clenching caused by medication or neurological damage. Changes in diet, exercise habits, and medication can also reduce the incidence of clenching, as can the use of specialized jaw exercises which are designed to promote free movement of the jaw. Since stress is a common factor, doctors may also recommend a general reduction in stress, along with exercises which help reduce stress, such as yoga or meditation.

If a patient's bruxism becomes extreme, trigger point injections may be recommended. These injections are used to force the muscles to relax, making it difficult to clench the jaw, and they must be placed carefully to ensure that they do not interfere with eating and speech. In the case of jaw clenching caused by a deformity in the jaw, the patient may need to wear corrective devices such as retainers or braces, or undergo oral surgery to correct the problem. Because these measures are more extreme, other causes of jaw clenching are ruled out before they are recommended.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon310476 — On Dec 23, 2012

My problem is that the clenching is caused by a medicine. I'm going to ask my acupuncturist about some treatment for it. Anyone ever tried that? --Bonnie

By anon293948 — On Sep 28, 2012

By the way, regarding night guards: Yes, they are crazy expensive from the dentist. However, they are fitted so that you actually protect the teeth and joints. If I used a drug store night guard, I would be busy chewing that mushy little toy all night long -- just the opposite of resting those muscles.

By anon293947 — On Sep 28, 2012

I am a dental hygienist with a terrific clenching habit. I do wear a night guard to prevent breaking (more) teeth. My resolution was physical therapy.

My PT says she never sees bruxism without a neck and shoulder issue. I knew my muscles were tight, but hadn't made the connection. Once I started to address the tightness and shortened muscles, my clenching resolved. In fact, it is now a reminder: if I start to clench, I better check out how my neck and shoulders are doing.

By anon256454 — On Mar 21, 2012

I think I'm clenching my teeth at night because I have dreams about it, and my teeth have been getting more sensitive, so I'm guessing that may be it. I can't,however, afford a mouth guard thing from the dentist because they're $400 dollars, and I have no dental insurance. So, I'm stuck trying to find another way.

By anon223071 — On Oct 17, 2011

A regular mouth guard does not work. You are still grinding your teeth and jaw. I had a severe jaw problem I researched and found a guard that only fits on your front teeth, which causes you not to be able to close your mouth all the way, which in turn keeps you from grinding at all.

I'm sorry, it has been years since I've had this so I can't remember the exact name but the lettering on my case is NTI. Just search mouth guard NTI and it should give you info. Trust me. I was floored after one night's wear of it. My pain stopped. I still wear it if I feel as if I've been grinding my teeth more than normal that night.

My pain was very disturbing, but this worked! Not all doctors make these mouth pieces but you can search for one in your area or near you. God bless you. Again, I say don't invest or use full mouth guards. They do not work. This appliance did!

By yumdelish — On May 06, 2011

I can offer two tips that people I know have found really helpful. One is to keep your tongue between your teeth, as this helps to develop awareness of the habit. It won't be much use if your thing is jaw clenching during sleep, but at least you're making your brain aware of what your body is doing.

The other thing that may help in the long term is to improve your posture. It sounds odd to me, but people who slump when sitting have more jaw problems than others.

By CaithnessCC — On May 05, 2011

@Acracadabra - You can buy kits to make a sports mouth guard yourself. I guess that would work just as well. The problem is going to be that you won't stop the jaw clenching, just minimize the damage to your teeth.

As a long time TMJ sufferer I understand the way it makes you feel. In the end though there's no substitute for finding a way to stop it altogether. That has to come through identification of stress or possible medical issues.

By Acracadabra — On May 04, 2011

I've been looking for advice on how to stop my jaw clenching and teeth grinding habit for a while. The information here is really useful and gives me confidence that I can stop this forever one day.

I'm going to ask my dentist about a mouth guard when I see her next week. In the meantime, is it possible to buy something similar from the drugstore?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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