Many people habitually clench their teeth for many reasons, but is clenching your teeth bad for your health? The answer is yes, clenching your teeth can cause a variety of health problems, in addition to the obvious issue of damage to your teeth.
Teeth clenching happens for many reasons. For example, clenching your teeth is a common physical response to anxiety or stress. Other people clench their teeth (without even realizing it) when they’re feeling determined or frustrated.
It’s common for people who clench their jaw to not realize they’re doing it because it’s happening when they’re under stress, determined and in concentration mode, or while sleeping.
Clenching your teeth is bad for your health because it can cause facial pain, headaches, trouble chewing food, premature wrinkles and can even alter the shape of your face in severe cases.
If you regularly clench your teeth and it’s not just something you do on occasion, you’ll be at higher risk of these negative consequences.
The Difference Between Teeth Clenching and Teeth Grinding
Both teeth clenching and teeth grinding are manifestations of a health condition known as ‘bruxism’. Not everyone who clenches or grinds knows they’re doing it, and only find out when a doctor notices symptoms of bruxism and sheds light on the fact that they may be clenching or grinding.
Many people who clench their teeth also grind their teeth, while others only do one of the other. Both clenching and grinding are bad for your health, but what’s the difference between clenching and grinding?
For starters, teeth grinding is worse for your teeth than teeth clenching, as this habit can completely wear down and significantly damage your teeth.
While teeth clenching is simply holding the teeth together tightly and tightening the jaw muscles, teeth grinding is scraping and moving the jaw with the teeth held together. People who grind their teeth will hold their teeth together and grind side-to-side or back-to-front, and often do this in their sleep without knowing it if they have a condition called sleep bruxism.
Why is Teeth Clenching Bad for You?
Clenching your teeth can cause a variety of issues. Below are some reasons why teeth clenching is bad for you:
- Clenching your teeth habitually can cause frequent headaches or earaches
- Teeth clenching can cause strain on the temporomandibular joints (TMJ), which allow you to open and close your jaw. TMJs are located on each side of your skull and control the mobility of your lower jaw. They also help you to chew and speak. Overworking these joints can cause pain, inflammation, muscular spasms, and even “lockjaw.”
- Facial pain and discomfort
- Tooth damage and tooth pain
- Difficulty chewing your food
- Premature wrinkles on the face
- Change of facial shape and enlargement of the jaw muscles. Over time, clenching your teeth can cause an enlargement of the jaw muscles, known as “Masseter Hypertrophy”. From constant teeth clenching, more pronounced jaw muscles can result in an undesirable “square-jawed” appearance to your face.
Reasons Why People Clench Their Teeth
Teeth clenching is not just a bad habit, it’s also often a health condition called bruxism. Below are some reasons why people clench their teeth:
Anxiety and Stress
Stress and anxiety are the most common causes for teeth clenching or teeth grinding. When you’re tense or concerned, it’s natural to clench your jaw as a stress response.
If stress or anxiety are causing you to clench your teeth, try alleviating or reducing your stress with meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, counselling, exercise or other activities that reduce your stress. Speak to your doctor if you think you might have an anxiety disorder that results in teeth clenching.
It’s important to be aware of how your body responds to stress. Some people clench their teeth, while others pull out their hair or bite their nails. Everyone responds differently to stress, but the key is to be aware of what you’re doing when you’re under stress so you can address the problem.
Excess Alcohol or Caffeine Consumption
There appears to be a link between excess caffeine consumption during the day and teeth clenching while sleeping at night. It makes sense: caffeine increases your energy and heart rate, which can lead to poor sleep and teeth grinding or clenching. Consider switching to decaf in the afternoon onwards. Similarly, alcohol can cause teeth clenching because it alters the neurotransmitters in your brain, triggering your jaw muscles to hyperactivate.
Medication Side Effects
Both teeth clenching and teeth grinding can sometimes be a side effect of certain medications. Antidepressants (in particular SSRIs or serotonin reuptake inhibitors) can have unwanted side effects including teeth clenching.
Since teeth clenching and grinding often happens during sleep without you knowing. Certain sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) can cause you to be more likely to do this while you sleep.
You’re also more likely to clench or grind in your sleep if you’re a person who talks in their sleep or if you suffer from sleep paralysis.
How to Stop Clenching Your Teeth
Is clenching your teeth bad enough for you that you should see a doctor and figure out how to stop? Absolutely. You should speak to both your dentist and your doctor about your teeth clenching tendencies.
Dentists can repair damaged teeth if needed, and provide you with a mouth guard to wear at night if you tend to clench or grind your teeth while sleeping. Wearing this mouth guard while you sleep prevents you from clenching or grinding while you sleep.
While you are awake, self-awareness is key to stop clenching your teeth. Once you are aware that you tend to clench when you’re concentrating or stressed, for example, you’ll be more likely to catch yourself clenching and stop doing it.
Reducing stress and anxiety is key to preventing daytime clenching from occurring. Speak to your doctor about counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, or other anxiety-reducing options to help reduce your stress.
Curious about what other health conditions you might have? A CircleDNA test can inform you of your risk of various health conditions and diseases.