Dentists have reported a rise in teeth clenching and grinding since the pandemic began.
The symptoms of teeth clenching and/or grinding (also known as bruxing or parafunction) can include pain in the teeth and gums, as well as jaw joints and muscles.
The pain it causes can be debilitating and significantly affect your daily life.
Watch: Six soothing solutions to de-stress. Post continues below.
We’re specialist dentists who teach, research and practise in the areas of prosthodontics (Dale Howes) and community dentistry (Alexander Holden). Here’s what you need to know about clenching and grinding your teeth.
Are you clenching your jaw right now?
Our top and bottom teeth are only designed to meet when we need them to; for biting and chewing food.
We naturally spend only a small portion of the day chewing, with our top and bottom teeth making contact with each other.
As you read this article, think about how, subconsciously, you have positioned your teeth and jaws. Assuming you are not eating or chewing while reading, your teeth should be apart when you’re relaxed, whether or not your lips and mouth are shut.
If we grind or clench more than nature intended, the teeth can become worn over time, while the jaw muscles can become fatigued and tight.
The jaw joints (known as the temporomandibular joints) attaching the lower jaw to the skull contain a disc, which helps control the way the jaw joints move.
This disc can become distorted or dislocated, which can lead to clicking, reduce function and cause pain.
So why do we grind our teeth?
Stress is one of the main contributing factors.
When I (Alexander Holden) see patients who complain of soreness in their jaw joints and surrounding muscles, or who have obvious signs of grinding or wear on their teeth, I’ll ask about stress.
"No, I’m not stressed at all!" is often the answer, but then when we sit and talk about what’s really going in their life, the sources of stress quickly become apparent.
Starting a new job, challenges at home or with family, or coping with a life change are all common experiences that stress us more than we realise. It’s not always easy to identify when we’re experiencing tough times.
What can we do about it?
The first step is becoming aware you’re grinding and clenching, and making an often subconscious behaviour into one that we can control and stop.