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Jaw clenching is medically referred to as bruxism or simply teeth grinding. Many children have the habit of clenching teeth at night, which can cause jaw pain, next day. Not only small children but adults also clench their teeth when angry or stressed. Children may develop the habit of teeth grinding unconsciously. It is a type of sleep disorder. It may be experienced during short naps too. Removal of the underlying cause helps get rid of the problem.

Remedies

Jaw clenching at nights can be stopped with the help of following remedies.

Stress Management: Stress reduction may help reduce jaw clenching. Practicing yoga and meditation can definitely help manage stress. Certain prescription drugs help lower anxiety and stress. One may opt for aroma therapy to reduce the stress. Regular exercise helps maintain hormonal balance and helps prevent adverse effects of stress on health. Certain lifestyle changes, dietary alterations may help you lead a stress-free life.

Mouth Guard: Use of a mouth guard or splint at night may not cure the condition but it can help prevent damage to the teeth. The splint needs to be checked by the dentist. A dentist should ensure that it fits the patient's mouth properly and comfortably. These days, different types of splints are available in the market, for example, a splint called NTI-tss fits over just the front teeth (only a dentist can fix it), some fit over the top teeth, some on the bottom. A 'repositioning splint' helps change the person's occlusion, or bite.

Injections and Surgeries: In some severe cases, trigger point injections are recommended. The injections force the muscles to relax, making it difficult to clench the jaw. But proper care needs to be taken to ensure that they do not affect eating and speech. If deformity in the jaw is the main cause of jaw clenching, then the patient may wear corrective devices like retainers or braces, or he / she may have to undergo oral corrective surgery to solve the problem. For some patients, orthodontic adjustment of the bite pattern helps get rid of the habit of jaw clenching. Surgery should always be considered as the last option.

Modern Devices: The patient may use the device which is designed to monitor the electromyographic (EMG) activity of the temporalis muscle. The device records the activity as soon as the muscles contract and transmits a contingent electrical stimulation (CES) to the receptors located in the skin. The CES is responsible for the inhibitory reflex in the brain stem which causes the jaw muscles to relax and curbs clenching of the jaw, without waking up the user.

Here are some self-care steps which may help relieve the pain.
  • Apply ice or wet heat to tender jaw muscles.
  • Increase your intake of water, drink plenty of water
  • Avoid eating hard foods like nuts, candies, steak.
  • Avoid stressful routines, take rest, get plenty of sleep.
  • Physical therapy helps relieve jaw pain. Clenching of jaw due to neurological damage or medication can be cured with special jaw exercises, under the guidance of a physiotherapist.
  • Relax your face and jaw muscles throughout the day. Slowly stretching the jaw muscles, open your mouth as wide as possible and then close it slowly. You can massage the muscles of the neck, shoulders, and face.
Try to find out the cause of bruxism; so that it can be addressed easily.

Causes

The following factors may trigger jaw clenching.
  • Dietary changes, digestion problems
  • Wrong use of certain medicines leading to seizures
  • Excessive stress
  • An allergic reaction may trigger clenching of the jaw
  • Brain damage
  • Congenital deformities in the jaw
  • Certain medical ailments like anxiety
  • High levels of blood alcohol
  • Excessive smoking
  • Drug abuse
  • Neuromuscular disorders like Huntington's and Parkinson's diseases
  • Excessive intake of amphetamine and related stimulants
  • Trauma (a car accident) may trigger teeth grinding and then it may continue as a habit
Symptoms

Since jaw clenching often occurs during sleep, it is difficult to control. Teeth grinding can put pressure on the muscles, tissues, and other structures in and around the teeth in the jaw, which may result in temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ). Some people never feel the symptoms although they regularly grind teeth while sleeping. Mild bruxism doe not lead to any health problem. Many people are unaware that they are clenching their jaws until they develop the following symptoms.
  • Sensation of jaw locking, soreness or jaw pain
  • Anxiety, stress, tension
  • Insomnia (difficulty sleeping)
  • Depression, nervousness
  • Eating disorders
  • Headache, migraines
  • Pain in the neck
  • Chewed tissue on the inside of the cheeks
  • Indentations on tongue
  • Severe facial pain and pulls
  • Hot, cold, or sweet sensitivity in the teeth
  • Damaged teeth
  • Tooth decay due to damaged teeth
  • Loose teeth, Tooth loss
  • Gum recession
  • Eustachian tube dysfunction
  • Referred pain in an ear (because the structures of the temporomandibular joint are very close to the ear canal)
The pain in jaw and other symptoms may vary, depending on
  • How stressful is your life
  • Your sleeping habits, posture
  • Your eating habits, diet
  • Whether your teeth are properly aligned or not
  • How long and tightly you grind your teeth
  • Muscle health, your ability to relax
If the above jaw clenching remedies do not help get rid of the problem, fix an appointment with your dentist or an orthodontist or an ear-nose-throat (ENT) specialist. Clenching of jaw while sleeping is not a serious disorder; but it can cause jaw pain and permanent damage to your teeth. So, you should see a dentist immediately.

Disclaimer: This Buzzle article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.