What Causes Constant Teeth Clenching And How Can You Stop It?

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Medically reviewed by Othman Lahmaydi, RDH

Jaw clenching and teeth grinding (also known as “Bruxism”) can be troublesome to deal with. You may not even realize you’re doing it in the first place. But what exactly causes these issues, and how can you alleviate painful symptoms?

Bruxism is a condition where you clench, grind, or gnash your teeth. You may do this unconsciously and not realize it until you experience complications. Bruxism may be treated by reducing stress, stretching your jaw, or using a mouthguard at night.

Don’t fret if you find yourself clenching your teeth. This is a common issue that many people deal with on a regular basis. You can begin alleviating painful symptoms once you know what signs to look for. Here’s what you need to know about bruxism.

What Is Teeth Clenching?

Young girl nervous, tensed and clenching

Teeth clenching, or bruxism, is a dental condition in which you clench, grind, or gnash your teeth. Bruxism may cause you to unconsciously clench your teeth when you’re awake or grind them while you sleep.

Mild symptoms of bruxism and teeth clenching may not require medical treatment. However, in some cases, these issues can lead to jaw disorders, headaches, tooth damage, and other health complications.

Sleep bruxism is a sleep-related movement disorder. People with sleep bruxism are more likely to have other sleep issues, such as snoring or sleep apnea.

You may only notice sleep bruxism once complications arise, so it’s important to know what causes these symptoms and what to look out for.

What Causes Constant Teeth Clenching?

Constantly clenching your teeth can cause headaches, tightnesses, sore jaw muscles, and other health complications. Besides bruxism, there are a wide variety of reasons why you could be clenching your teeth.

Stress, Anxiety, and Other Emotions

One of the most common culprits of constant teeth clenching is stress, anxiety, anger, and other emotions. You may unconsciously clench your jaw or grind your teeth if you’re feeling stressed throughout the day.

This can cause your jaw muscles to tighten up, resulting in soreness and headaches. If the issue persists, you may develop cracks or damage to your teeth.

Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMD)

Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) are typically caused by dysfunctions of the joints in your jaw. This causes pain, tightness, and soreness to your jaw and the surrounding muscles.

The temporomandibular joint is required to chew food, yawn, and speak. Some other symptoms of TMD may include:

  • Tenderness in the face, jaw, ears, or neck
  • Finding difficulty when chewing or opening the jaw
  • Consistent headaches and “jaw popping”

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

The autoimmune inflammatory disorder known as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can also cause jaw clenching. RA affects the muscles and joints throughout the body, including the joints in your jaw.

Inflammation from RA can make it difficult or painful to open your mouth. You may also experience damage to the joints, surrounding tissues, and even bone loss in the jaw. Additional symptoms can include:

  • Tightness in the jaw
  • Inflammation, stiffness, and pain in your joints
  • Bumps under the skin of your joints
  • Fever

Excessive Chewing

Excessive chewing throughout the day can cause jaw clenching and pain as well. Like any other muscle or joint, overuse can result in discomfort, soreness, and tightness.

Excessive Amounts of Caffeine and Alcohol

Excessive amounts of caffeine and alcohol put you at risk for bruxism. These substances can increase stress and anxiety, resulting in unconscious teeth grinding and clenching.

Medications and Substances

Certain medications, like antidepressants, methylphenidate, and amphetamines, may cause teeth clenching and mild bruxism. Tobacco products, recreational drugs, and other stimulants can also put you at risk for teeth clenching and bruxism.

Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) syndrome is a sleep-related breathing disorder characterized by repeated episodes of obstruction of the upper airways, which can be associated with snoring and arousals at night. The sleep process and oxygen deprivation can lead to numerous health consequences. Micro-arousals occurring during sleep are considered to be a causal factor for bruxism.

People who go undiagnosed and untreated for sleep apnea and may share some of the same symptoms as those with bruxism. They are also known to grind their teeth and clench their jaws at night.

How to Stop Clenching Your Teeth

Clenching your teeth and jaw can disrupt your life. You may wake up with severe headaches, sore facial muscles, or a tight jaw. Thankfully, you can employ a few tricks to relieve tension and relax your jaw.

Reduce Stress

Constant jaw clenching and teeth grinding are typically caused by stress. Anxiety, frustration, and stress from your day-to-day life may be causing you to unconsciously clench your teeth together. Try reducing your stress to alleviate these symptoms. Relax before bedtime by going for a walk, meditating, or doing light yoga.

Practice Jaw Relaxation Techniques

Jaw stretches and facial exercises are some techniques to alleviate tension and tightness. Here are some exercises you can try:

Smile Stretch: While looking in the mirror, give the widest smile you can without feeling discomfort. From there, slowly open your jaw and inhale through your mouth. Gently let go of the smile as you exhale. Repeat this stretch ten times. This exercise is designed to reduce stress in the facial muscles, jaw, and neck.

Joint Stretch: Relax your jaw by resting your tongue behind the upper front teeth. Lower your bottom jaw so that the lower teeth move apart from the upper teeth. This exercise will help stretch and relieve tension around your jaw and neck. You can repeat this stretch up to 10 times if necessary.

Manual Jaw Opening: To begin, gently open and close your mouth a few times to warm up. Place your fingers on the top of your front bottom teeth. Slowly apply pressure until you feel slight discomfort on the tighter side of your jaw. Hold this exercise for 30 seconds, and then slowly return your jaw to the starting position. You can repeat this stretch three times and gradually build up to 12 repetitions.

Consider a Mouth Guard

A woman with a towel on her head holds a whitening mouth guard for teeth

A night guard or bite splint is designed to prevent you from clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth in your sleep. These dental appliances can help alleviate painful symptoms and discomfort. You may need a specific type of mouthguard, depending on your circumstances. Be sure to consult your dentist beforehand.

Exercise Regularly

Exercising regularly can help you sleep better and reduce stress. You can lift weights, go for a jog, or do other activities that get your body moving. It may be better to exercise during the day rather than at night.

Avoid Caffeine and Change Your Diet

Drinking large amounts of caffeine can cause you to unconsciously clench your jaw or grind your teeth. Consider cutting back on caffeine throughout the day or at least restricting caffeine intake to the morning.

You can also change your diet to include softer foods. Softer foods require less chewing and put less pressure on your jaw muscles. Consider yogurt, smoothies, or even tofu as a way to alleviate tightness.

Get a Massage or Give Yourself One

Getting a professional massage can help you relax and reduce stress. You can also give yourself a jaw massage to alleviate painful symptoms.

Massaging the muscles around your jaw can increase blood flow and reduce muscle tightness. Open your mouth and gently rub the muscles near your ears in a circular motion. You can do this several times throughout the day.

Consult Your Dentist or Doctor

Consult your dentist or primary doctor if none of the solutions above work. They’ll determine whether you have bruxism and how severe it is. You may be prescribed a mild muscle relaxer to alleviate painful symptoms. Or they may recommend a night guard to help you avoid grinding your teeth while you sleep.

Is It Bad to Always Clench Your Teeth?

Generally speaking, bruxism and jaw clenching won’t cause serious health complications. However, in severe cases, these issues can lead to:

  • Tooth damage
  • Tension-related headaches
  • Severe facial and jaw pain
  • Temporomandibular disorders, jaw clicking, or jaw “popping”

Be sure to reach out to your primary care doctor if you think you might be suffering from bruxism.

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