Treating TMJ issues: stop grinding your teeth during sleep

Do you grind your teeth in your sleep?

Most people learn that they do this from a dentist who sees wear and tear on the teeth, or because the noise wakes up a family member, or because they wake with sore jaw muscles.

Grinding at night (sleep bruxism) can wear off enamel and make teeth more sensitive and prone to cavities.

It can also crack molars, creating the need for a lot of expensive and uncomfortable dental work in the form of crowns or extractions and possibly implants.

Not many clients have told me that they were somehow able to stop grinding their teeth in their sleep. It’s hard to change a habit that occurs when you’re sleeping!

If you have successfully stopped grinding your teeth while asleep, I definitely want to hear about it.

However, it definitely can and does happen! Here’s what I’ve heard or read that may help you stop the habit.

Meditation can help.

I recently talked with someone who first came to me years ago for TMJ relief.

She mentioned that she was completely over her grinding issues and had been for quite a while.

I asked her what helped her stop the habit, and she replied, “Meditation.”

She said that when she started a regular practice of meditation, she noticed that her grinding gradually diminished.

Eventually she realized she hadn’t done it for a while.

This confirms what seems obvious to me: stress contributes to the behaviors that create and maintain jaw tension and pain. The autonomic nervous system senses some sort of threat (including thoughts), and the body tenses.

Meditation is a calming activity. Making a daily habit of it reduces stress. Lowering the amount of stress you experience eventually ends the behavior.

There are many kinds of meditation. I recommend adopting a kind attitude to yourself, counting your breath to 10 or 20 for focus, and paying attention to your actual experience of sitting in silence, breathing, hearing sounds, sensing your body — pressure, temperature, posture, your heartbeat, etc.

When a thought arises, label it “thinking” and return to perceiving the present moment.

Making your exhalations even with your inhalations, with comfortable pauses between breaths, helps shift the autonomic nervous system from stressed sympathetic mode (fight or flight) to restful parasympathetic mode (rest and digest).

It may seem boring, but this aspect of meditation strengthens your ability to focus and feel more at home peacefully in your body. You’ll discover the signature sensations of relaxation.

You can eventually learn to sense when you are first becoming stressed and be able to calm yourself…with your breath, by taking a time-out, and/or getting yourself into a less stressful environment.

There’s an online Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course, taught by Jon Kabat-Zinn, for $198. It would make a great investment in your long-term well-being. He also has a Master Class.

There are several apps as well. I enjoy using the free Insight Timer for my silent meditations.

Hypnotherapy may help.

Another remedy I can point to is hypnosis or hypnotherapy.

A couple of people who told me they successfully stopped grinding their teeth in their sleep said that hypnosis helped a lot.

You may prefer to see a local hypnotherapist, who can customize a session and recording for you.

Or you may try listening to a free hypnotherapy recording. I recommend a video on YouTube, Sleep Hypnosis for Jaw Relaxation and Teeth Grinding (Bruxism / TMJ / TMD. It’s by Michael Sealey, a professional hypnotherapist who has over 1.5 million followers on YouTube and speaks with a lovely British accent.

It’s audio only. Listen to it before you go to sleep. It’s 44:17 long. I’ve never yet been awake for the end of it.

Try tyrosine.

The only practical science about sleep bruxism that I’ve seen to date is neurologists speculating that night-time grinding may occur due to a dopamine deficiency, and that it’s similar to restless leg syndrome — another repetitive motion activity occurring during sleep.

There’s been no follow-up to that 2013 study, unfortunately.

If you’re motivated to stop your bruxism, you can try supplementing with tyrosine, an amino acid precursor to dopamine. If you have ill effects, stop.

(If you’d like to save 30% on supplements, create a Wellevate account (no charge) and look at my protocol for sleep bruxism.)

You can up your intake of tyrosine-rich foods.

You might even try all three methods: meditation, the hypnosis video, and consumng more tyrosine.

I’d love to hear what works for you.

What to do if you have jaw issues? I offer a 30-minute in-person TMJ consultation to gather information and evaluate your issues. I teach clenchers an alternative to clenching as well as the above information to stop grinding.

These habits are major contributors to TMJ issues, and you can change them.

If you’re not in Austin, I can do the above as well as help you learn what to ask about when seeking TMJ relief near you. Just let me know if you need a phone or Zoom consultation.

I offer a combination TMJ Consultation plus TMJ Relief session in person in Austin, Texas. The consultation serves as an intake, so I have a better idea of what your issues are and how we’ll measure progress. Your consultation is free when combined with your first TMJ Relief session. This is a two-hour session.

To be fair, when you’ve had TMJ issues for a long time, or they are acute, you may need multiple sessions to retrain your system to retain the ease and alignment, along with doing your homework to stop clenching or grinding your teeth.

I offer a package of four TMJ Relief sessions for 10 percent off single sessions, best done a week or two apart. These sessions are 90 minutes and integrate various bodywork modalities — including work in your mouth — so that you feel great when you get off the table. They are best done over 4 to 6 weeks.

If you’re really adventurous, you can schedule a 75-minute Self-Treatment for TMJ Issues session on Zoom where we’ll do an intake and I will teach you how to work on releasing the tension patterns that cause problems, including working in your own mouth. You’ll need clean hands and short nails. It’s really not that hard! Learn more about it here.