Treating TMJ issues: reducing night grinding

A reader asked about grinding the teeth during sleep (night bruxism). Sleep labs have begun to investigate this. They found that about 1 in 4 people with sleep apnea also grind their teeth while sleeping. When the apnea is treated, the bruxism goes away. So..if you grind, consider going to a sleep lab.

Most people do a little bit of clenching or grinding while asleep.

When is it a problem? When you wake up with jaw or facial pain, earache, headache, or experience difficulty chewing (TMJ disorder). Or perhaps your dentist sees wear and tear on your teeth. Severe bruxism can crack teeth and require expensive dental work.

Why do people grind their teeth at night more than just a little bit? Stress is the main cause and well worth examining. Reducing stress during the day is likely to result in less grinding at night — but no studies have been done on this that I know of.

If you have personal experience, please share.

Body mechanics can also play a role. Posture both while awake and asleep influences your nervous system and can produce or relieve stress and tension. Just as with athletic training, learning and practicing good posture may require special training. The Alexander Technique, the Feldenkrais Method, alignment-based hatha yoga (Iyengar and Anusara), and structural integration bodywork (i.e., Rolfing) may all be of help.

A special pillow that keeps your head and spine aligned can be helpful. See my Self-Care Tools page for information on the Therapeutica Sleeping Pillow, which comes in different sizes based on the distance from your neck to outer shoulder.

Probably the simplest thing you can try is changing your sleep position. If you have night grinding and sleep on your side, try sleeping on your back. It may take some getting used to but may give you some relief.

Night bruxism may be an attempt to realign your cranial bones. Several sessions of craniosacral therapy may help.

If you have night bruxism, what has helped you?

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