You had a stressful day and you unleashed your tension by grinding your teeth at night — maybe grinding so forcefully that you woke up the household. And perhaps you paid the price the next day with a headache. For head and facial pain caused by teeth grinding (also called bruxism), you can get temporary relief from over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin or acetaminophen. But that doesn’t get to the root of the problem. For that you’ll want to consult with your dentist. In the meantime, here are some ways to minimize the daily (or nightly) grind.
[step-list-wrapper title=”” time=””] [step-item number=”1. ” image_url=”” title=”Enjoy Your Retiring” ]Avoid stressful thoughts, activities, and movies in the hours before bedtime. You probably don’t realize it, but just before bed is the worst time to pay the bills, watch Die Hard reruns, or talk about your in-laws. Get to your finances, violent movies, and sensitive subjects early in the evening. If you are bothered by worries, jot down things that you need to address the next day. Then take a long, warm bath before you go to bed.
While you’re in the bath — or even when you’re lying in bed — cover your jaw with a washcloth that’s been soaked in hot water. The extra warmth will relax your jaw muscles.
Practice progressive muscle relaxation before you go to sleep, so tension doesn’t lead you to grind at night. When you’re lying in bed, tense, then relax the muscles in your feet. Repeat with your calf muscles, then thigh muscles, and so on, progressively tensing and relaxing each set of muscles all the way up your body. By the time you tense and relax your neck and jaw muscles, you should feel as limp as a rag doll. Avoid eating within an hour of bedtime. Digesting food while you sleep makes you more likely to grind your teeth.[/step-item]
[step-item number=”2. ” image_url=”” title=”Be Guarded” ]A protective mouth guard made for boxers and defensive linebackers will work for teeth grinders too. Many types of protective mouth guards are available at sporting-goods stores. Follow directions on how to mold it to your bite, then wear it to bed at night. The rubbery material will absorb pressure and save your teeth from damage. (If you find that the mouth guard keeps falling out, or you wear it right through, talk to your dentist about a customized mouth guard.)[/step-item]
[step-item number=”3. ” image_url=”” title=”Give Your Jaw a Break” ]During the day, make a conscious point of keeping your jaw relaxed and your teeth apart. As a reminder to yourself, rest your tongue between your top and lower teeth — so if you start to bite down, you’ll chomp on some nerve endings. Doctors have observed that people who can break the daytime teeth-grinding habit are less likely to do it unconsciously at night.
Avoid excessively hard or chewy foods — not only gum and hard candy, but also steak or dried foods that require a lot of jaw action. And if you’re in the habit of chewing on the end of your pencil, try to stop. When you work your jaws during the day, the pattern is likely to continue in your sleep.[/step-item]
[step-item number=”4. ” image_url=”” title=”Watch What You Imbibe” ]Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum — or, better yet, stop drinking altogether. This is especially important in the evening. Though sleep experts aren’t sure why, people who drink heavily at night are more likely to grind their teeth when they sleep. Avoid caffeinated drinks. Since caffeine is a stimulant, if you drink coffee, black tea, or caffeinated soft drinks, you’re far more likely to grind your teeth.[/step-item]
[step-item number=”5. ” image_url=”” title=”Get Mineral Power” ]Take powdered magnesium and calcium — in a two-to-one ratio — every day. These minerals help your jaw muscles relax, particularly at night. Dosages range from 600 milligrams of calcium along with 300 milligrams of magnesium to 1,000 milligrams of calcium with 500 milligrams of magnesium daily. Start at the lower dose, and if you don’t get relief after a couple of weeks, increase the dosages. Calcium/magnesium tablets are also available, but they don’t dissolve as readily. When you use the powdered form, dissolve the mineral supplements in an acidic liquid like orange or grapefruit juice.[/step-item][/step-list-wrapper]
[step-list-wrapper title=”” time=””] [step-item number=”6. ” image_url=”” title=”What’s Wrong?” ]You may respond to stressful situations during the day by clenching or grinding your teeth at night, without even realizing you’re doing it. This presents a problem, since your teeth are designed to touch briefly when you’re chewing and swallowing. They aren’t built for the punishment of constant grinding. Common triggers are tension and anger. Nighttime grinding can lead to cracked teeth and headaches, as well as the neck and jaw pain called temporomandibular disorder (TMD).[/step-item]
[step-item number=”7. ” image_url=”” title=”Should I Call the Doctor?” ]If you wake up with pain in your jaw, neck, or shoulder, or have morning headaches, talk to your dentist or doctor. This is particularly important if your bedmate reports that you grind your teeth at night. And you need to see the doctor immediately if you have a broken tooth from the grinding. For severe teeth grinding, you can be fitted with a very effective appliance called the NTI-tss (nociceptive trigeminal inhibition-tension suppression system). It protects you from the damaging and often migraine-producing clenching on back molars.[/step-item]
[step-item number=”8. ” image_url=”” title=”Did You Know?” ]When you grind, you may be putting as much as 1,200 pounds of pressure on the crowns and roots. That recurring pressure is what can break or loosen your teeth.[/step-item][/step-list-wrapper]