You may not be aware that you are grinding or clenching your teeth (bruxism). For many people, this happens during sleep. Even though you may be able to sleep through it, you may be grinding away parts of your teeth. If you continue to wear away your teeth, you may break or loosen a tooth or filling or wear down your biting edges.
Causes of teeth grinding include stress, an abnormal bite, and crooked or missing teeth. In some cases, teeth grinding is made worse by alcohol or drug use. Teeth grinding and clenching can cause pain and popping in your jaw joint. Other symptoms are earaches, headaches, and face pain.
Talk to your dentist about your teeth. Your dentist can determine what treatment is right for you. In some cases, a mouth guard or mouth splint can help protect the teeth from further damage. If stress is a cause of your grinding or clenching, your doctor may prescribe medicine to help you relax.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
How can you care for yourself at home?
- Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine so you can get plenty of sleep. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco before bedtime. Talk to your doctor if you have trouble sleeping.
- Put either an ice pack or a warm, moist cloth on your jaw for 15 minutes several times a day if it makes your jaw feel better. Or you can switch back and forth between moist heat and cold. Gently open and close your mouth while you use the ice pack or heat. But do not use heat if your jaw is swollen. Use only ice until the swelling is gone.
- Get at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week to relieve stress. Walking is a good choice. You also may want to do other activities, such as running, swimming, cycling, or playing tennis or team sports.
- If you have a sleeping partner, ask them to let you know when you are grinding or clenching your teeth. You may be able to change positions and relax your jaw, and you both can go back to sleep.
- Practice breathing and relaxation exercises to reduce tension.
- Treat yourself to a massage. Some people find regular massages very helpful to relax muscles. You also can give yourself a neck, shoulder, and face massage.
- During the day, try to keep your jaw, face, shoulder, and neck muscles relaxed.
- Avoid hard or chewy foods (such as popcorn, jerky, tough meats, chewy breads, gum, and raw apples and carrots) that cause your jaws to work very hard. Choose softer foods that are easy to chew, such as eggs, yogurt, and soup.
- Cut your food into small, bite-sized pieces, and chew slowly.
- Do not chew gum for long periods of time.
- Make sure you go to the dentist for routine checkups.
- If your dentist prescribes a mouth guard or splint, wear it as directed.
When should you call for help?
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
- You have new or worse pain.
- You do not get better as expected.
Where can you learn more?
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