Clenching and grinding your teeth, also known as bruxism, can create enough wear and tear to damage your enamel, cause breaks in your teeth and produce malocclusion (misaligned bite), temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) or even tooth loss. It's a common problem, and most people with bruxism don't even know they have it. This is particularly true for those who do most of their grinding at night.
The good news is treatment is available to reduce or even eliminate grinding along with its unpleasant side effects. One option involves bruxism exercises that help you grind and clench your teeth less frequently and lessen your discomfort.
What Are Bruxism Exercises?
Bruxism exercise is meant to address both the causes and the effects of grinding your teeth. Awareness exercises, for example, not only help you determine triggers – such as stress, anger or boredom – but they can also help prevent you from grinding. If you focus on the position of your tongue and teeth, this can prevent a damaging clenching session. Consciously place your tongue against the backs of your top teeth, which makes it impossible for you to grind your teeth. As you become aware of your personal triggers, you can use this technique to keep those triggers from affecting you.
Tension in the jaw is another bruxism cause, and some can develop jaw tension as a result of grinding, too. Either way, jaw tension is uncomfortable and can lead to headaches, earaches or aches in the jaw joint. You can manage this by learning to relax your jaw muscles. Any time you feel your face or jaw tensing up, ease into a more relaxed position. If you're not aware when you're tensing your jaw, clench the muscles deliberately, then relax slowly to get used to the way you feel when these areas are in a more neutral position. Other ways to relieve jaw tension include massages, stretching exercises or even physical therapy, according to the National Institutes of Health. Physical therapy, in particular, is effective because your therapist can create a treatment plan that's tailored for you. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, stretching exercises can help normalize the jaw muscles and joints, as well as other muscles along the side of the head. Massages can also be helpful, and should include not only the jaw but the neck and shoulders as well. Your physical therapist or massage therapist might find knots in the muscles that contribute to your chronic tension.
Reducing stress in your life is overall very good for your health, so relaxation exercises can be beneficial for maintaining normal blood pressure, helping you sleep better and reducing overall wear and tear on your body, as well as on your teeth. Other good ways to reduce stress include meditation and focused relaxation, where you consciously relax various areas of the body.
Consult with your dentist to determine which of these approaches might be most effective for your individual situation.
Do Bruxism Exercises Really Work?
Researchers are still investigating the effectiveness of a physical therapy approach to treating bruxism. But so far, according to the Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association, bruxism exercises do seem to alleviate some of the symptoms, although severe malocclusion issues or chronic TMD require other types of treatment. If exercises are not helpful, talk to your dentist. You may need orthodontic treatment to restore your teeth to their proper alignment.
Though grinding and clenching might not seem like a serious issue, it can cause long-term damage and even eventual tooth loss, so be sure to talk to your dentist about how bruxism exercises can help you eliminate this habit.