Bruxism, most commonly called teeth grinding, is a condition in which you involuntarily grind, gnash or clench your teeth. It can occur when you’re sleeping or when you’re awake but often people don’t register that they’re doing it.
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Occasionally grinding your teeth does not cause harm, however, if grinding occurs on a regular basis, damage to teeth and other oral health issues can occur, as well as sleep disorders. Clenching teeth during waking hours, usually, an unconscious act, is called Awake Bruxism, during sleep, it is referred to as Sleep Bruxism.
Did you know that teeth grinding and TMJ can be relieved if you use a special TMJ pillow that will allow you to minimize the pressure on your jaw? Yep, I was surprised to hear that too.
According to the American Sleep Association, 10% of American adults and 15% of children are bruxers, or sufferers of teeth grinding. Children as young as eight and adults over 80 can have bruxism.
The percentage of sufferers is the same among men and women, although aggressive, hyperactive and competitive personalities have an increased risk, and those with a family history have a 50% greater chance of grinding their teeth.
Bruxism is generally an undiagnosed condition until the dentist finds damaged teeth and/or jaw damage from the clenching and grinding.
Here is the best sleeping position for those who grind their teeth and how to prepare and adjust to this sleeping position, considerations for those with sleep apnea and/or severe snorer’s, and then I continue with questions related to the condition of teeth grinding and TMJ associated issues.
Best Sleeping Position Teeth Grinding
The best sleep position to prevent teeth grinding and bruxism is on your back.
Back sleeping is the best because you are not altering the natural curve of your body, or contorting your body like when you sleep on your side or stomach.
With your head and neck properly supported the natural alignment of your body is not compromised, therefore muscles and soft tissues are not stressed and this relaxed state prevents you from clenching and then grinding your teeth.
According to the British Snoring and Sleep Apnea Association your sleeping position plays a significant role in how well you sleep, if you have aches and pains upon waking, and preventing clenching that leads to grinding.
If you have sleep apnea and/or problems with snoring your back is not the position for you. Please see the section “What Is The Best Sleeping Position For Those Pregnant or Sleep Apnea and Grind Their Teeth?” for sleep position guidance.
Special Note: Sleep apnea is a serious condition that should not go unchecked, please consult your doctor if you experience any symptoms.
Also, severe snoring can cause sleep disruption and other complications. Please advise your doctor if you snore severely and/or excessively.
If you grind your teeth and do not have sleep apnea, sleeping on your back is the best position and though you may think you can not get used to sleeping in this position, there are techniques you can use to help you get comfortable and used to this optimal way of sleeping.
How to Properly Sleep On Your Back
First, you must be sure to support your neck & head. This graphic from the Sleepjudge.com article, How To Sleep On Your Back shows proper head placement to support your neck.
If your pillow is２ too high, it will elevate the head and neck and draw the chin downward. When your pillow is too high, the normal curve of your neck is compromised. With your pillow in this placement, your neck is bent abnormally forward or to the side.
Your muscles will remain in a flexed position, this may cause pain and stiffness upon waking. As your muscles are constantly stressed, eventually “knots” will form along the muscle fibers. These tight centers can lead to persistent headaches, neck, shoulder and other joint pain.
If your pillow is too low３, or thin, it exaggerates your normal neck curvature. Your head will draw back and down, your chin tucked, and your neck, head and shoulders are strained.
Pillows that are more depressed for the head with higher support for the neck are comfortable for many and offer great support.
Maintaining a pillow height of 4 to 6 inches will support your head, neck and shoulders well.
Once you have supported your head and neck, keeping the natural, slightly forward curve of your neck, you can alleviate even more strain on your neck by placing a pillow under each arm. This takes away any stress put on your shoulders and neck.
Now follow these steps:
- Lay flat on your back. Continue to support your head and neck with the proper pillow height and placement. Support the neck further by placing pillows under your arms.
- Place a pillow under your knees.
- Bring your hands up to the side of your pillow or place a pillow under each arm.
- Stay on your back.
How Can I Get Comfortable On My Back?
Many people struggle when first getting used to sleeping on their backs, often this is due to a too firm mattress, which may make you feel like you are lying on piece of wood. If possible, invest in a back supporting mattress.
You can get lower back strain when you first sleep on your back. In order to prevent this, place a pillow under your knees. This will support the natural curves of your lower back and body.
What Is the Best Sleeping Position for those Pregnant or Have Sleep Apnea and Grind Their Teeth?
If you are pregnant, DO NOT sleep on your back, whether you grind your teeth or not.
In this position, the weight of your womb can press on the vena cava artery. This will disrupt blood flow to your baby, give you nausea, making you dizzy and short of breath. During the second half of your pregnancy, it is best if you sleep on your left side.
If you have Sleep Apnea, Do Not sleep on your back.
The National Institutes of Health study found that men with Obstructive Sleep Apnea had twice as likely to suffer an incidence of sleep apnea when sleeping on their backs.
Sleeping on your back causes your tongue and soft palate to fall back into your throat, this increases the likelihood that your windpipe can be obstructed and increases the likelihood of apnoeas.
If you are pregnant, have Sleep Apnea or are a severe snorer, the best sleeping position for you is on your side.
How Do You Sleep On Your Side?
Sleeping on your side helps the head, neck and spine maintain a healthy, neutral position. When sleeping on your side, your pillow’s job is to fill the space between your mattress and head.
A firm or extra-firm pillow will offer the most support and comfort for those who sleep on their side, as it keeps the neck, head and spine straight and aligned.
If you need extra help getting used to sleeping on your side, try sleeping on a narrow couch, with a body pillow against your back or sew a tennis ball into the back or front of your pajama shirt to keep you from rolling on your back or stomach.
Sleeping on your side increases your teeth grinding risk. This is a catch-22 scenario if you are unable or it is unhealthy for you to sleep on your back. It is important to try to relax your jaw muscles with a warm washcloth or water bottle wrapped in a towel, before bedtime.
Be sure your head and neck are aligned and supported well while sleeping on your side, this will help prevent tightness and keep the likelihood of clenching reduced.
Place a pillow between your knees to keep proper spine alignment, this reduces stress and tension on the whole body, keeping the risk for teeth grinding low.
What Is The Worst Sleep Position for Every Body?
Though stomach sleeping can alleviate snoring and incidences of sleep apnea, it flattens the natural curve of your back, causing a lot of back pain.
The stress on the natural curves of your body is tremendous. Please implement our suggestions to learn how to sleep on your back or side.
Sleeping on your stomach will also put undue pressure on your jaw and twists your neck. With this pressure, you have a higher increase to grind your teeth.
The increase risk of teeth grinding this sleeping position warrants as much protection and relaxation techniques you can do to protect yourself from grinding your teeth.
Now that you know the best and worst sleeping positions for severe snoring, Sleep Apnea and if you grind your teeth, let’s look at why you grind your teeth and what you can do if you have bruxism.
What Are the Causes of Teeth Grinding?
Stress and anxiety is a major cause of teeth grinding, and will certainly exacerbate the intensity of grinding or clenching.
However, the following are the most common causes of teeth grinding:
- Missing teeth
- Crooked teeth
- An abnormal bite
- Sleep apnea
- Caffeine or nicotine consumed before sleep
- Alcohol use
- Certain antidepressants
- Recreational drug use that cause dry mouth, most commonly cocaine and ecstacy.
Sleep bruxism is a sleep-related movement disorder. Those who grind, or brux, their teeth in their sleep are more likely to be affected by other sleep disorders including snoring and sleep apnea, or pauses in breathing.
Do other health conditions possibly cause teeth grinding?
Yes, several health disorders increase the risk of grinding and clenching teeth during sleep, including:
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD)
- Night terrors
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Teeth Grinding?
- Teeth grinding or clenching, often loud enough to wake your sleep partner (this is how most first learn of their condition)
- A persistent, dull headache, usually in the temples, upon waking
- Flattened, fractured, chipped or loose teeth
- Worn tooth enamel
- Increased tooth pain or sensitivity
- Tired or tight jaw muscles, or a locked jaw that won’t open or close completely
- Jaw, neck or face pain or soreness
- Pain that feels like an earache, though there is no ear problem
Can Alcohol Cause You To Grind Your Teeth?
Alcohol doubles your chance of developing sleep bruxism. Alcohol breaks up sleeping patterns. Sleeping poorly triggers your muscles to hyper-activate and this in turn causes you grind your teeth. Also, alcohol numbs the body, so you may damage the inside of your cheek by not realizing you are biting it while grinding your teeth.
Why Do I Grind My Teeth At Night?
Stress and Anxiety: The most common cause of teeth grinding is stress and anxiety. Teeth grinding caused by stress and anxiety can occur at night or during the day. Over half of all teeth grinding cases are related to stress.
Side-Effect of Medications and Medical Conditions: Psychotropic drugs such as antipsychotics and antidepressants may cause teeth grinding as a side-effect. Teeth grinding in this case usually occurs at night.
Sleep Disorders: Sleeping disorders cause a higher risk of teeth grinding.
Effect of Lifestyle: Stimulants, such as excessive caffeine and street drugs, such as MDMA cause an adrenaline rush. Excessive amounts of adrenaline make you grind your teeth or bite your tongue and because the drugs act as a low-level anesthetic you often don’t realize the damage you’re causing.
Malocclusion or Uneven Bite: Malocclusion affects the joints that control the movements of the jaw and this may cause you to grind your teeth. An uneven bite destabilizes the closing of the jaw, bringing considerable stress. This is also common with those who suffer with jaw joint or TMJ (temporomandibular joint) issues.
What Are Some of the Complications of Teeth Grinding?
Most cases of teeth grinding do not cause serious complications, however those with severe cases may have the following complications:
- Persistent tension type headaches
- Damaged teeth, crowns and other dental restorations
- Severe jaw pain
- Damage to the jaw joint(s) or the temporomandibular joints (TMJs)
What Are the Side Effects of Dental Night Guards?
I’ve answered that in-detail in this article.
Can stress cause jaw clenching?
Pain from TMJ starts at the jaw and will usually radiate up the head and down the neck. Stress will cause you to unconsciously clench your teeth more, this causes more pressure in the jaw, and therefore, more pain in the jaw.
What helps TMJ pain?
- Use moist heat from a heat pack or a hot water bottle wrapped in a warm, moist towel. This can improve function and reduce pain in your jaw. Do not use HOT heat as you may burn your skin.
- Ice packs can decrease inflammation and also numb pain and promote healing. Keep the pack wrapped in a clean cloth while you are using it. Use for 10 – 15 minutes. Do not put ice directly on your skin.
- Soft or blended foods allow the jaw to rest temporarily and allow you to eat more easily if you are having jaw tightness or pain. Avoid hard, crunchy, and chewy foods and do not stretch your mouth to eat: corn on the cob, apples, or whole fruits.
- Ibuprofen, or other NSAIDs may provide temporary relief from jaw pain. Be sure to call your doctor if you are experiencing persistent jaw pain. When necessary, your dentist or doctor may prescribe stronger anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants, or antidepressants to help ease symptoms.
- Slow, gentle jaw exercises and stretches may help increase jaw mobility and healing.
- Sleep on your side using a firm or extra firm pillow between your shoulder and neck.
- Focus efforts to relax your lips, and keep teeth apart. Try to keep your tongue gently pressed touching the back of your teeth. This will keep your entire jaw structure more relaxed.
- Use your fist to support your chin as you yawn to prevent your jaw from locking open.
- Do all you can to keep from clenching your jaw. Never intentionally clench your jaw.
- Do not chew gum. Repetitive chewing aggravates the jaw joint, chewing gum irritates and tightens the jaw and neck muscles. Tight muscles lead to clenching.
- Do not cradle your telephone, this will irritate & tighten the jaw and neck muscles.
How do you relax your jaw?
To relax your jaw and surrounding muscles perform the following:
- Using small, circular motions with your fingertips, gently massage your jaw muscles.
- Next, open your mouth as wide as you can without pain or discomfort.
- Hold this stretch for 10 seconds, then release and relax.
- Repeat 10 times.
Many stretches, guided visualizations and techniques for relaxing your jaw can be found in multiple online videos. Here is a list of Youtube videos that offer yoga to help prevent teeth grinding.
Any stretching or yoga program can help you to relax your entire body, therefore taking the pressure and stress off of your jaws, neck & shoulders, thus reducing your tendency to clinch. Practicing yoga a couple times of week can go a long way to helping stay relaxed.
Special Note: Always breath deep and slow while stretching and relaxing and never induce pain during any stretching or relaxation technique.
How Do I Find Out If I Grind My Teeth?
Waking with a sore jaw or a persistent headache, especially located in the temples, is a strong indicator that you grind or clench or your teeth. However, most people are told of their sleep teeth grinding by a sleep partner. The grinding is generally loud enough for anyone in the same room to hear.
Seeking a proper examination, your dentist can check the tenderness of your jaw, and the wear on your teeth can determine and/or confirm whether or not you are grinding your teeth in your sleep.
How do I stop grinding my teeth?
There are several options you have to stop grinding your teeth. Relaxation techniques that may help include:
- Slightly open your mouth. Place the tip of your tongue between your upper and lower teeth. This will train your jaw muscles to relax.
- Relax your jaw muscles at night by holding a warm washcloth or wrapped water bottle against your cheek and in front of your earlobe.
- Stretch or perform yoga poses that will help you relax.
Below is a great video to begin a routine that will assist in preventing your from clenching and grinding.
The best practice to protect your teeth and assist in holding and keeping your jaw relaxed while you sleep is to wear a mouth-guard. This will protect your teeth and jaw. Review the best mouth-guards available in our article here.
Behavioral therapy is mandatory if anxiety or stress is believed to be the cause of your grinding. Reducing stress and anxiety or reaction to stressors will go a long way in reducing teeth grinding and associated jaw pain.
Talking through what is causing the stress and anxiety in your life can go a long way in reducing said stress & anxiety, as well as the resulting muscle tension.
Hypnosis has also been found to help relieve grinding of your teeth. The Bruxism Association in the U.K. found hypnosis to have positive long-term effects.
An evaluation by your dentist or doctor will give you a treatment plan to reduce or eliminate your teeth grinding.
In order to treat teeth grinding, you have to treat the root cause that is making you grind your teeth and usually, that’s the obstruction of your airway, whether through tight muscles, sleep and breathing disorders and/or a petite frame.
Once you remove the need to grind, it stops.
If you grind your teeth, you should first consider that you may have a small airway and the reason you’re grinding is to open your collapsed airway while you’re sleeping. Participating in a sleep study and talking to your health provider will give you the best plan to relieve your teeth grinding.