Life is stressful. How do we relieve stress? Some people exercise their stress away. Some people pound a punching bag. Unfortunately, most people internalize their stress and it can negatively affect their health.
Many people try to relieve stress when they don’t even know it. They grind their teeth. It happens mostly during sleep but also during the day. It’s easy to understand when it happens during the day. If you are doing a very difficult task that takes a lot of stress or concentration we often find ourselves with our teeth clenched and shoulder and neck tight. If we take a breath and relax our shoulders and jaws we can relieve the clenching.
So why do many of us clench or grind our teeth at night? Well, there is a phase of sleep that is called REM sleep or rapid eye movement sleep. You are asleep but your eyes are moving. After that we go into our deepest sleep which is called Delta sleep. In the REM phase of sleep we unconsciously review our day to begin forming memories. So if our day was stressful many of us start to clench or grind our teeth. People who have a serious problem will wake up in the morning with a sore jaw.
So what's the problem? Well, researchers have found that this type of clenching and grinding generates 9 times the pressure of normal chewing. So the jaw joint has a huge amount of pressure exerted on it and can have arthritic damage but the chewing muscles can also go into spasm. This tremendous pressure also cracks teeth. Many people have been known to wake up in excruciating pain discovering that they have split a tooth.
When clenching and grinding become a problem the solution is usually a night guard. This is a plastic cover that fits over the teeth and protects them from the effects of clenching and grinding. The thickness of the plastic also prevents the chewing muscles from shortening enough to go into spasm. In our office we usually make the night guards for the lower jaw. There is a technical reason for this but for the patient it’s all about comfort. Most patients who have a hard time with an upper night guard find that going to a lower one is much more comfortable.
In order to make a night guard we take an imprint of the teeth and make a plaster model. We make the night guard on this plastic replica of the teeth. They’re usually ready in a week.
Keep in mind that research has shown that no treatment stops the grinding. Only eliminating stress does that but that is also virtually impossible. In my practice I have treated patients with this jaw pain who have had a loved one die or are going through a divorce etc. and when they come to terms with the trauma in their life the clenching and grinding, and the pain, get resolved. Unfortunately, most people are stressed by day-to-day life and that’s hard to get past.