Teeth Grinding and Headaches
If you’re waking up in the morning with a sore jaw and a headache, it could be that you’re grinding or clenching your teeth while you sleep. Most people aren’t even aware that they’re doing it (unless an irate bed partner points it out) but grinding your teeth leads to more than just a headache – it can wreak havoc on your teeth and jaw as well.
The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) – now that’s a mouthful!
Grinding or clenching of the teeth during sleep are symptoms of a condition called bruxism. The upper and lower teeth are rubbed against each other in either a back and forth or side to side to motion or clamped together repeatedly. This can lead to temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder.
The temporomandibular joint is found just in front of the ear and joins the lower jaw to the temporal bone of the skull. TMJ disorder can cause dull tension-type headaches that may even last throughout the day.
Some people clench their teeth during the day as well, due to either stress or agitation, or just out of habit, completely unaware that they’re doing it. Grinding and clenching can lead to sensitive teeth, worn enamel and even chipped teeth.
What Causes Teeth Grinding?
Reasons for nocturnal teeth grinding vary, but can be due to stress, or a misaligned bite where the teeth don’t fit together as smoothly as they should, or the position where they fit best doesn’t allow the jaw muscles to relax. Small adjustments in bite alignment can occur as a result of biting down suddenly on something hard – beware of those un-popped popcorn kernels!
Missing or crooked teeth can also lead to teeth grinding. A sleep disorder, earache or certain medications could be the culprit.
The Effects of Teeth Grinding
Grinding the teeth can lead to stiffness of the neck muscles, and facial or jaw pain, which are aggravating triggers for headaches. Grinding also takes its toll on the TM joints, which may click or pop, or lock in position resulting in a limited capacity to open the mouth properly. If the joint is badly damaged, surgery may be needed to repair it.
How to Combat Teeth Grinding
So what can be done to combat this bothersome nightly habit? A dental night guard, custom made by your dentist, can help reduce symptoms. This is a plastic guard fitted to the upper teeth. Using an athletic mouth guard is not recommended, as this can cause some people to grind their teeth even more.
Try to avoid stimulants like caffeine and alcohol, as these may be contributing factors, and avoid chewing gum. Taking muscle relaxants or calmatives at bedtime may also be helpful.
In addition, take steps to manage stress, like regular exercise and relaxation. Set an alarm to remind you to consciously relax your jaw throughout the day. Place the tip of the tongue behind the front teeth and separate the upper and lower jaws.
Teeth grinding can be treated, so if you’re suffering from headaches and jaw pain as a result of grinding or clenching, speak to your dentist about an oral appliance. This will help most people to rebalance their bite and give their jaw a good night’s rest.