If you find that your jaws are tight when you awake, you may
be clenching and grinding your teeth in your sleep. The
grinding and clenching of teeth is a habit called bruxism,
and it is caused by stress. Clenching is a continuous or periodic
closing of the jaw under vertical pressure. Grinding is
a rhythmic side-to-side movement or a forward-and-back
movement. The teeth are under severe pressure when you
clench and grind them. The constant moving of your teeth
back and forth while grinding will loosen the teeth.
If you grind and clench your teeth, you may find yourself
with a condition called temporomandibular joint disorder
(TMJ). The temporomandibular joint is the hinge and
socket that allow the mouth to open and close. The jaw can sometimes lock into position, limiting your mouth in opening
and closing. Or you may hear clicking sounds, indicating
that the TMJ is not working as smoothly as it should.
Grinding or clenching your teeth inhibits the correct movement
of this joint. Stretching the ligaments creates problems
for the TMJ joint and can even affect your gum
condition. It can inhibit your ability to do proper oral
hygiene and can cause pain, leading to stress in your mouth
and causing you to feel uncomfortable.
The amount of damage that you can do to your mouth
correlates directly with the duration of the grinding-andclenching
habit. Bruxism will show as wear on your teeth. If
you routinely grind your teeth in your sleep and clench daily,
then you will probably cause serious damage to your teeth.
Headaches may even be due to the grinding and clenching of
your teeth, as they place excess stress on the ligaments and
Breaking such a habit is hard because it is usually a secondary
factor to major stress. It takes awareness, and a conscious
willingness to change the behavior pattern, to stop the
Remedies: If you are consciously aware that you are
clenching, then use your tongue as a tool to inhibit the
process and place it between your teeth. In the evenings
before retiring, drink a glass of warm milk and relax. Do not
go over your worries for the day as you prepare for slumber:
think pleasant thoughts, especially before going into a
If your jaws are tight and you are in pain, you might
want to try some isometric exercises. Isometric means
resistance. Cup your hands under your chin and press upward while your mouth muscles push your chin down
onto your hands. Do the same with the side of your jaw:
press your jaw to one side while you press in with your
cupped hands, one on either side of your jaw. Resistance in
this area will strengthen the ligaments and lead the TMJ
back to health. If you are getting headaches due to clenching
and grinding, this will help to eliminate the pressure
and allow the circulation of blood to the brain, thus eliminating
If you are grinding and clenching your teeth in your
sleep, you will have little control over the habit. A night
guard or splint can be made to enable you to keep your
teeth apart at night. If you feel that you can wear this comfortably,
make an appointment with your dental professional
to have one made. Your dentist will take an
impression, make a mold, and send the mold to a lab to
make you a customized night guard or splint. Night guards
sold in drugstores over the counter will not fit properly,
and can irritate the gum tissue. An ill-fitting night guard or
tray can be the cause of gum disease.
Chewing on the lining of your cheeks and biting your lips
may be a nervous habit. This may lead to ulcers and irritation.
Irritation of your cheeks will make it difficult for you
to effectively perform oral hygiene, thus possibly leading to
gum disease. Ulcers in your mouth can spread and irritate
the gum tissue.
Remedies: Consciously try to stop this habit. Stress can
cause us to hurt our body parts. Remind yourself of the good
that is in your life, and that you can decrease your stress
level and bad habits.
Instead of biting your cheek, place a rubber band on your
wrist. Every time you are about to bite your cheek, snap the
rubber band. After a while you will stop biting your cheek
(and also will not have to snap the rubber band that is on
your wrist!). The rubber band is more obvious, and your
conscious mind will not allow the pain that is a consequence
of this negative habit to continue.
Another bad habit caused by stress is chewing on ice. Ice
can be very destructive and cause much harm to the teeth. It
can wear down the surfaces of your teeth as well as irritate
the gums because of the excess stress you are placing on
your teeth with the ice. This all depends, of course, on the
severity of the habit.
Remedies: Awareness of the damage that chewing on ice
can do to your teeth and gums will help you to break the
habit. Consciously remember this at the times you may want to chew on ice. Remove these thoughts and replace them
with positive thoughts.
If you chew ice as a stress reliever, you might find that
you will break many of your teeth. Such knowledge works
to curb the habit. It causes you to be conscious that you can
make the enamel thin with the habit of ice chewing, which
will lead you to have sensitive teeth. And sensitive teeth
can cause you pain. Pain and sensitivity will not allow you
to enjoy good foods. If you need to release stress in this
fashion, chew sugarless gum instead.
If stress is leading you to chew gum, choose sugarless gum.
It is important to note that the chewing of gum is not always
negative; it increases the saliva flow, which cleanses the
teeth and adds moisture to gum tissue. If you constantly
chew gum and find that your jaw is sore, you may be overdoing
it. Chewing sugarless gum in moderation can be helpful,
as it can reduce stress and lubricate the mouth.
Remedies: Chew in moderation. If you think you are
relieving stress by chewing gum, then chances are you are
probably overdoing it. Too much stress on the jaw is tiring
and can cause the mouth to get irritated. Try to let go by
working out instead—going for a walk or jog, biking, or
swimming. If you find that you need an oral fix, then chew
on carrot or celery sticks. Stress is removed by healthful
foods. Do not allow yourself to enter the realm of negativity.
Gum chewing in excess can be a cause for muscle stress
in your mouth. If you chew, chew sugarless gum, and do so
in moderation. Eating Sweets
Stress can cause us to act irrationally and can lead us to want
to erase any negative feelings by eating sweets. It is known
that chocolate can compensate for romance, and it affects
the pituitary gland. What does it do to our teeth and fragile
gum tissue? Try placing sweetened chocolate and other
sweets on your skin. You will find they will irritate the skin.
They will also irritate the oral cavity. Sugar turns to acid,
and acid eats away at the soft and hard tissues of the oral
cavity. Plaque and bacteria feed off the sugar and invade the
support structures of your teeth.
Remedies: A conscious effort and a focused mind will
help you to stop eating sweets at times of duress. Replace the
belief that negative feelings are extinguished when you eat
sweets, and instead eat foods that are good for you, like fruits
such as apples, bananas, and strawberries, and vegetables
such as broccoli, spinach, and dark green lettuce. I have
recently tried to diet, and I find that when I am stressed out I
tend to eat something that gives me instant gratification such
as chocolate. I then realize I like some really good foods such
as strawberries and watermelon. I use self-control and eat
healthily and feel better. The existing balance of your energy
system in your body will help you to reduce stress.
Do not keep sweets in the house. If you thrive on chocolate
and sweets due to a high level of stress, remind yourself
of the cycle into which it can lead you: weight gain, the lack
of necessary vitamins, an acidic mouth produced by sugar
intake and poor diet, and loose gum tissue. All this will create
additional stress. Try to reduce, and not increase, your
stress level, by exercising control; you will eliminate stress
quicker. Sweet eaters are instant gratification seekers, but you can become an educated consumer. Think healthily and
exercise your body. Drink more water and eat nutritious
foods. This practice of healthy thinking will eliminate the
need for sweets.