Bruxism, or teeth grinding, is a painful condition that can be disruptive to sleep and daily life 1. Untreated bruxism can turn into temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), a painful condition that causes lockjaw; neck, head and jaw pain; and clicking of the jaw. Often, bruxism goes unnoticed until a friend or spouse hears the teeth scraping against each other or until the symptoms become a painful disruption. Bruxism symptoms can be minimized by relaxation exercises and practicing proper positioning of the mouth and jaw.

Symptoms of Bruxism

Clenching, grinding and gnashing teeth are common complaints of persons with bruxism 1. The tightening and forced contraction of the jaw and surrounding muscles contribute to head and neck aches, worn-down teeth and enamel, tooth sensitivity, jaw pain and tightness, swollen jaw muscles and facial pain. The physical discomfort may lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.

Causes of Bruxism

Multiple factors influence the development of bruxism. High levels of stress, anxiety, depression and suppressed anger and frustration contribute to bruxism. Sleeping habits, excessive caffeine intake, abnormalities in jaw alignment and family history increase susceptibility to bruxism.

Bruxism Exercises

Grinding and clenching are often unconscious behaviors that require modification and correction. Relax the jaw, part your lips and create a gap in between your teeth. Rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Hold this position as long as comfortably possible. This position encourages jaw relaxation and teaches proper jaw and mouth positioning. Severe bruxism makes this position challenging--practice by placing your finger in between your teeth and allowing your jaw to slack. Chin pushes are another exercise that helps the jaw return to its proper alignment and improve its range of motion. Place your fingers on the front of you chin. Create tension with your fingers and push your chin forward. Return to the start position and repeat 10 more times.

Preparation and Frequency of Bruxism Exercises

Bruxism causes tight and constricted jaw muscles. Movement is challenging and limited. Apply a heating pad or warm towel to the neck, jaw, head and face to warm up the jaw and muscles prior to engaging in exercises. Choose one exercise and incorporate it into your daily routine. After a few days, add the second exercise to your daily routine. If pain does not decrease, contact a dentist or physical therapist to prescribe the appropriate amount of exercises to meet individual needs.

Additional Treatment

Symptoms of bruxism that are not completely relieved by exercises may respond well to facial, neck and head massage, stress reduction therapy, splints, mouth guards and caffeine and alcohol reduction. Schedule regular dental appointments for x-rays and teeth evaluations to assess improvements in bruxism, receive recommendations and to prevent further damage.