Jaw clenching is a habit which can lead to jaw pain and a variety of dental problems. It may develop unconsciously in response to stress, dietary changes, medication, and a variety of other factors, and it often occurs during sleep, making it difficult to control. There are several approaches to dealing with this problem, all of which are designed to reduce the amount of clenching and grinding which occurs while addressing the underlying causes.
This habit is sometimes referred to as bruxism or teeth grinding. Many people are unaware that they are clenching their jaws until they develop tension, soreness, and pain in the jaw, or their teeth begin to experience problems related to jaw clenching. Some causes for clenching beyond those listed above include brain damage and congenital deformities in the jaw. Dentists, orthodontists, and ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists can all work with a patient to treat jaw clenching.
One of the most immediate approaches to bruxism is the use of a mouth guard or splint at night. The guard should ideally be fitted by a dentist, who can ensure that it fits the patient's mouth properly and comfortably, and it is designed to deal with clenching as it happens. In addition to using a guard, a patient may also need to explore the cause of the condition so that it can be addressed.
Physical therapy can sometimes be used to treat jaw clenching caused by medication or neurological damage. Changes in diet, exercise habits, and medication can also reduce the incidence of clenching, as can the use of specialized jaw exercises which are designed to promote free movement of the jaw. Since stress is a common factor, doctors may also recommend a general reduction in stress, along with exercises which help reduce stress, such as yoga or meditation.
If a patient's bruxism becomes extreme, trigger point injections may be recommended. These injections are used to force the muscles to relax, making it difficult to clench the jaw, and they must be placed carefully to ensure that they do not interfere with eating and speech. In the case of jaw clenching caused by a deformity in the jaw, the patient may need to wear corrective devices such as retainers or braces, or undergo oral surgery to correct the problem. Because these measures are more extreme, other causes of jaw clenching are ruled out before they are recommended.