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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Dr Angelica L Dumapit on September 20, 2022

Stop Your Teeth Grinding with These Healthy Hacks

Reducing stress and anxiety during the day is the key to eliminating teeth grinding at night. That's often easier said than done, but these tips can help.

Teeth grinding min scaled

Teeth grinding can do more than cause irreversible damage to your oral health. It can also be an indication of increased stress and anxiety levels.

When left untreated, high levels of stress can lead to mental health disorders. It can also affect things like your weight, blood sugar control, and cognitive function.

In this guide, we’ll explain what causes teeth grinding at night and how certain lifestyle habits can help get you to stop.

What Causes Teeth Grinding?

Teeth grinding can lead to jaw pain, headaches, and permanent dental damage.

Did you know that your upper and lower teeth come into contact less than 20 minutes a day? Unless, of course, you’re a person who grinds your teeth during sleep.

Teeth grinding involves the occlusal surface of your upper and lower teeth knocking against each other independently.

Here are some reasons why this could be happening:

Mental health disruptions

A study has discovered that psychological factors are directly related to nocturnal teeth grinding. People who exhaust their energy and mental focus on their day’s work are highly susceptible to the condition.

Likewise, people who are frequently stressed or feel angry, anxious, or irritable are also at an increased risk. 

TCM physician Lim Sock Ling explains that in TCM, each of the five organ systems is linked with a particular emotion. Anger is associated with the Liver; fear with the Kidneys; joy with the Heart; sadness and grief with the Lungs; and worry with the Spleen. 

“In TCM, the relationship between an ailment and emotional changes is bi-directional,” Physician Lim states. An emotional disturbance could cause an ailment. Conversely, an emotional disturbance could be a symptom of an imbalance in the organ system.

“For example, the Liver plays an important role in regulating emotions attributed to its role in qi (life force) circulation. Hence, Liver imbalance can lead to poor qi regulation among other organs and cause you to lose control over your emotions. This could manifest as depression, stated Physician Lim.”

“In turn, depression itself can be a symptom of or a contributing cause of Liver dysfunction. A person with this condition finds it difficult to find joy and tends to be worrisome and down,” she further elaborates.

The Heart is another important organ in emotional regulation because it contains Shen or spirit. If this organ system is compromised, an unstable and depressed mood may occur.

Lifestyle habits

Yes, that’s right, we’re pointing a finger at you. And by you, we mean people who indulge in unhealthy lifestyle practices like cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and the use of recreational drugs. In addition, a person who consumes more than six cups of caffeinated beverages may also be prone to teeth grinding.

Separately, the habitual biting of random items can trigger abnormal movement in the brain cells that connect to the jawbones. Found in the cerebral cortex of the central nervous system, it can provoke a functional disorder of the trigeminal nerve – a cranial nerve that’s responsible for sensation in the face and motor functions like biting and chewing.

Subsequently, an intense, prolonged contraction in the masseter – a facial muscle controlled by the trigeminal nerve and supports the chewing of food – will lead to teeth grinding.

Imbalances in the body

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) links teeth gnashing at night to a Qi (vital life force) Deficiency.

A study of people who constantly grind their teeth demonstrated that the most notable imbalances were in the Bladder and Kidney meridians, and in the Shao Yin and Shao Yang energetic planes. 

Shao Yin comprises the Heart and Kidneys, while Shao Yang comprises the triple energiser and gallbladder.

How Does Teeth Grinding Affect Your Health?

If steps are not taken to halt the grinding, it can induce long-term effects, including a reduced ability to chew and a straining of the temporomandibular joint – a joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull. 

A person’s teeth will flatten and shorten from over-clenching. The thickest layer of the teeth will wear out, exposing the soft portion of the dentine and pulp cavity.

Consequently, their teeth will become sensitive to hot, cold, and sweet or sour-tasting foods. Infection, gum bleeding, and tooth decay or loss may also arise from the condition.

How To Stop Teeth Grinding

These tips can help you stop:

Limit alcohol and caffeine

Limiting the consumption of foods and beverages that contain alcohol or caffeine may help lower your vulnerability to teeth grinding. These include coffee, chocolate, and strong teas. 

Consider a mouthguard

A mouth guard can help protect your teeth from damage.

Seek the help of a dentist to put on braces or a mouth guard. It allows for a separation of the upper and lower sets of teeth, thus preventing your teeth from grinding when your jaw clenches. It’ll also protect the condyle muscles and fend off permanent tooth damage.

Promote relaxation

Improving your psychological health can go a long way in addressing teeth grinding.

Start by adopting activities that relax, such as: 

  • Listening to music 
  • Taking a hot bath 
  • Massaging the face with a hot pack 
  • Avoiding stimulating entertainment programs 

Meditation in motion is the most appropriate way to describe ancient exercises like yoga, tai chi, or qigong. These routines promote calm and serenity through gentle, fluid movements. Each movement also involves small steps, sitting or standing postures, and a focus on deep breathing.

“In TCM, poor health results from blocked energy that flows through the meridians of the body. Thus, tai chi or qigong can promote good health by allowing qi to flow through the body, thereby lowering stress and promoting relaxation,” added TCM Physician Vong U Chan.

According to Physician Vong, applying pressure to several acupoints can also help promote relaxation:  

  • Neiguan (PC 6) and Yintang (EX-HN3) can calm the mind. 
  • Fengchi (GB 20) has a relaxing and balancing effect on the nervous system.  
  • Dan Zhong (CV 17) and Taichong (LR 3) are good for regulating qi movement.  

You may also want to consider taking herbal supplements that help with stress, such as the medicinal mushroom Lingzhi.

As an adaptogenic food, Lingzhi controls the body’s response to stress, bringing down cortisol levels and making you feel less anxious. This can help reduce teeth grinding caused by stress at night.

Try acupuncture

Using acupuncture to alleviate anxiety, stress, and sleep disorders may also help with teeth grinding. The acupoints that can be stimulated are Zu San Li (ST36), San Yin Jiao (SP6), Ting Gong (SI19), and Jin Men (BI63).

These can enhance blood circulation, promote muscle relaxation, ease muscle spasms, and relieve pain and inflammation. They can also encourage the release of hormones like cortisol and endorphins, which bring about pain relief.

Seek Help If Teeth Grinding Persists

If you’re struggling with teeth grinding, worry not. Be more mindful when you clench your teeth. Do speak to a TCM practitioner beforehand if you wish to consider acupoint stimulation, as different people have unique body constitutions.

This is an adaptation of an article, “Why Is Teeth Grinding Bad?” that first appeared on the Eu Yan Sang website.

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