Treating TMJ issues: restless legs and sleep bruxism

A new clue about bruxism.

A neurology practice noted that of its patients who had restless legs syndrome (RLS), 60% also had bruxism (grinding teeth during sleep). Eighty-three percent had RLS and migraines, and 52% had RLS, migraines, and bruxism.

Do you relate?

The lead neurologist for this study speculated there is a gene that links these conditions.

It gets more interesting. Both restless legs syndrome and bruxism are involuntary movements occurring during sleep. Is bruxism “restless jaw syndrome?”

I’m always happy to see more research about TMJ-related issues, especially because there are so many factors that play a role in jaw dysfunction and pain.

This may be something to show your doctor, or you may be interested in taking a supplement or adding foods to your diet that help your body produce more dopamine (more info below).

More about bruxism.

Bruxism includes clenching and grinding the teeth. Some distinguish these as “waking bruxism” and “sleep bruxism”.

They may have different causes, in my opinion.

Sleep bruxism, in contrast to daytime clenching, is hard to treat because it occurs when you’re unaware of your behavior and unable to change it.

Waking bruxism is a habit that can change with awareness and practice. I’ve helped many clenchers learn how to relax their mouth position.

Some things I’ve noted about bruxism in my manual therapy practice:

  • Many people don’t know they grind during sleep until a dentist tells them they have damaged teeth.
  • Sometimes the noise of grinding during sleep is loud enough to wake up family members, and that’s how people learn they have sleep bruxism.
  • People who grind at night often wake up with jaw, face, or neck pain, earaches, and/or headaches.
  • Bruxism often results in the need for expensive dental work: mouthguards or splints to prevent further damage and crowns to fortify cracked or broken teeth.
  • Over time, bruxism can damage the temporomandibular joints, possibly requiring surgery.

Dentists and jaw issues.

Many people expect dentists to be experts on jaw issues, yet their domain is treating the teeth and gums.

Learning about TMJ disorders is not required in dental school.

General practice dentists can prevent further tooth damage with appliances like mouthguards and splints. They can repair existing tooth damage or replace teeth with implants.

Some dentists may try to adjust the positioning of the TMJs, and a few dentists also address airway issues (like sleep apnea, which may accompany sleep bruxism) in their work.

Dentists do not address stress or tension in the jaw muscles, which contribute so much to jaw pain. Any overworked muscle will hurt, tighten, and perhaps spasm. The jaw muscles are no different.

Some dentists and hygienists in the Austin area refer people with jaw pain or issues opening wide to me for TMJ relief bodywork, including intraoral work on internal jaw muscles.

Solutions to try.

If you grind your teeth during sleep, it is possible to stop by using hypnotherapy and EFT.

I often recommend a recorded hypnotherapy session for bruxism that’s available on YouTube to listen to before sleep.

I don’t know if it works for everyone, but it’s soothing — I always fall asleep before it ends. Less stress is always desirable.

I’ve also heard that starting a regular meditation practice can over time reduce or stop bruxism completely. There are many types of meditation. If you don’t have a good teacher, I recommend Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction taught online by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

As mentioned above, dopamine agonists are prescribed for low dopamine levels.

Dopamine is released when your brain is expecting a reward — when you anticipate a pleasurable activity such as eating a delicious meal, spending time with someone you love, or receiving a big check.

It’s sometimes called “the happy hormone” because it affects your enthusiasm, motivation, and focus.

If you suffer from bruxism, before going the pharmaceutical route with dopamine agonist drugs, you may want to consider nutrition — consuming foods or taking supplements that raise your dopamine levels.

In particular the amino acid tyrosine increases dopamine.

I found a few links that may be helpful:


I invite you to work with me!

MaryAnn Reynolds, MS, LMT, BCTMB
Austin, Texas
Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy • TMJ Relief
online scheduler: maryannreynolds.as.me
text or voicemail: 512-507-4184

Treating TMJ issues: portrait of a typical patient

Based on patients I’ve seen for jaw pain since 2013, I created this portrait of a typical patient. And of course, I’ve seen other patients who don’t fit these criteria.

She’s female. It’s been said that women are nine times more likely to suffer from jaw pain.

She first experienced jaw pain in her teen years.

She’s suffered for at least a decade, sometimes two decades or longer.

She clenches and/or grinds her teeth.

A dentist has prescribed an appliance to prevent damage to her teeth. The chances are 50/50 that she uses it as prescribed.

I wish I knew more about this.

Her pain level fluctuates, increasing with stress, and she usually hasn’t gone more than 6 months free from jaw pain since onset.

Her neck and shoulders are tight. Sometimes she has headaches, migraines, or ear pain.

She may also have pelvic alignment issues.

She has sought help from physical therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, and/or massage therapists.

She’d like to find lasting relief from her jaw and related issues.

Can you relate? How do you fit this profile, and how are you different?


I invite you to work with me!

MaryAnn Reynolds, MS, LMT, BCTMB
Austin, Texas
Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy • TMJ Relief
online scheduler: maryannreynolds.as.me
text or voicemail: 512-507-4184

Treating TMJ Issues: some medications cause jaw clenching

I’ve learned that some widely used pharmaceutical medications can cause jaw clenching and grinding as side effects.

The best known are in a class called SSRIs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, commonly prescribed for depression and/or anxiety.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Prozac (generic name fluoxetine). Here are some other SSRIs that can cause bruxism:

  • Zoloft (sertraline)
  • Celexa (citalopram)
  • Lexapro (escitalopram)
  • Paxil and Pexeva (paroxetine and paroxetine CR)
  • Viibryd (vilazodone)
  • Luvox (fluvoxamine and fluvoxamine CR)

Do not stop taking them without a doctor’s supervision, as you may have withdrawal symptoms, possibly dangerous.

In general, if you take any of these medications and you are clenching or grinding your teeth, talk to your doctor about alternatives: psychotropics, dopamine agonists, antihistaminergics, and psychostimulants, as well as other measures to relieve anxiety and depression.

I recently learned that there’s an alternative to pharmaceuticals for treating depression and other mental disorders. It’s called TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) and it works with your brain waves (rather than the chemical approach using particles).

It’s been approved by the FDA to treat depression and migraines, and it’s also being used to treat anxiety, OCD, PTSD, Asperger syndrome, TBI, ADHD, and more.

TMS is offered at several places in Austin. Do a search to learn more.

One more bit of info: I had a new TMJ Relief patient who was taking an SSRI. I treated her and gave her the info above.

Unlike others I’ve treated, she didn’t notice a difference in how her TMJs felt and moved at the end of her first session.

However, she emailed me the next day to tell me that for the first time in a while, she woke up without severe jaw pain and headache.

So even if you are taking an SSRI and have jaw pain, one of my TMJ Relief sessions (or even better, several sessions judiciously scheduled to prevent relapse) can help, and meanwhile you can be investigating alternatives.


I invite you to work with me!

MaryAnn Reynolds, MS, LMT, BCTMB
Austin, Texas
Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy • TMJ Relief
online scheduler: maryannreynolds.as.me
text or voicemail: 512-507-4184

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.

However, one of the few people I know who stopped grinding their teeth in their sleep said that when they started a regular, daily meditation practice, their night bruxism gradually stopped. 

If you have personal experience, please share. We need these stories! 

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. The Therapeutica Sleeping Pillow comes in different sizes based on the distance from your neck to outer shoulder for side sleepers.

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 bring 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?


I invite you to work with me!

MaryAnn Reynolds, MS, LMT, BCTMB
Austin, Texas
Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy • TMJ Relief
online scheduler: maryannreynolds.as.me
text or voicemail: 512-507-4184