Teeth Grinding and Jaw Clenching Treatment

Teeth Grinding and Jaw Clenching Treatment (Bruxism)

Teeth grinding and jaw clenching treatment: Bruxism is the medical term for teeth grinding and jaw clenching. Mild bruxism may not need treatment, but as a severe condition, it can cause the sufferer a number of complications affecting your teeth, jaw, face, head and quality of your sleep.

Teeth grinding and jaw clenching treatment
Bruxism can affect your teeth, jaw, face, head and quality of your sleep

Teeth grinding and jaw clenching are involuntary reactions to negative emotions. Performed repetitively, these reactions can become unconscious habits without the sufferer being aware of an immediate stressor.

Bruxism can be categorised into “awake bruxism” and “sleep bruxism”. As a reaction to certain stimuli, the involuntary daytime habit of jaw clenching is predominant with “awake bruxism”. With “sleep bruxism” however, both teeth grinding and sustained episodes of jaw clenching can become automated nocturnal behaviours.

Primary bruxism is a further categorisation of bruxism in which it occurs without any prior or connected medical conditions. Secondary bruxism has links with certain medication, lifestyle-substances, medical and psychological conditions. Sleep bruxism can also be associated with certain sleep disorders.

Both children and adults can suffer with bruxism, but the condition is most common with adults aged between 25-44 years old.

There is no specific cure for bruxism. Teeth grinding and jaw clenching treatments usually focuses on the management of physical symptoms. Since negative emotions contribute to bruxism, hypnotherapy can play an essential part in your jaw clenching and teeth grinding treatment.



Teeth grinding and jaw clenching treatment: Bruxism causes

The exact cause of bruxism is not completely understood. It can be due to a combination of psychological, physical and genetic factors. Any potential teeth grinding and jaw clenching treatment would match the underlying cause.

There are certain factors that will increase your risk of developing bruxism:

Age – Bruxism is prevalent in young to middle adulthood.

Personality – Certain personality types can increase your risk of bruxism including those who are might fall under the classification of Type “A” personality. It includes competitive, aggressive, perfectionist, hyperactive and impatient personalities. Those with generalised anxiety and non-assertiveness characteristics can also be prone to bruxism.

Family members with bruxism – If your family has a history of bruxism, you may be genetically predisposed to developing the condition. You may also learn bruxism behaviour from relevant authority figures.

Medication and other lifestyle substances – Teeth grinding and jaw clenching can be a side effects of certain antidepressant medication. Other lifestyle substances that may increase the risk of bruxism include drinking alcohol or excessive caffeinated drinks, smoking tobacco, and using recreational drugs.

Other medical conditions – Bruxism can be associated with medical disorders, mental health disorders and sleep-related disorders. These include dementia, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, GERD, ADHD, depression and anxiety. Sleep related disorders include obstructive sleep apnoea and other parasomnias like sleep talking and hypnagogic hallucinations.



Teeth grinding and jaw clenching treatment: Psychological factors

Stress and anxiety are considered as the originating, predisposing and perpetuating factors for many medical conditions. Stress and anxiety are major contributing factors for teeth grinding and jaw clenching habits.

Teeth grinding and jaw clenching treatment
Stress and anxiety is a major cause of bruxism

Along with the diaphragm, pelvic floor, and neck and shoulders, the jaw is a primary area to hold stress-related muscle tension. When you are in the “fight or flight” survival mode triggered by alertness to danger, the muscles around the jaw may contract as an innate or learned symptom of stress. The survival response of a general panic attack (which may also include jaw tension) is easily observed with phobias.

Consider another situation like when you have crossed the road, but not noticed a car speeding towards you. You can identify the source of your immediate “danger” as the speeding car. For most people, the survival response will create a reaction where you contract the necessary voluntary muscles to dash out of the car’s pathway. In that situation, your jaw contraction may have been part of the “flight” physical template.

With anxiety, the intensity of the danger is not usually as acute as the stress of the “speeding car” situation, but it can be recurrent. In addition to this, the situation triggering your anxiety may be weeks ahead and you may not always be able to identify the source of your “threat”. Teeth grinding and jaw clenching habits may persist throughout the period of anticipation and become a “standard” habitual coping mechanism when you worry about impending situations like an interview, exam or presentation.

Other negative emotions such as frustration and anger can also trigger this recurrent survival response from a situation that has already happened. With frustration or anger the “danger” could be a threat to your self-esteem. For example, when you are angry, there is a “threat” that you are not being understood, your expectations are not being met, that you may lose control of a situation, or that you appear worthless or stupid.

Constructively releasing your frustration or anger can help lower the stress related to your survival response. There are many ways to achieve this. Being able to “voice” your emotion is one useful venting method. However, in situations where you are unable to express these emotions in that moment, you may repress your frustration or anger. The emotion may then be “shelved” and “resurface” to be processed at a later time in other emotionally-related or non-specific situations.

Some previous clients who have received teeth grinding and jaw clenching treatment have mentioned that with daytime bruxism, the bruxism habit can be automated when concentrating on important work, where there is “danger” of being criticised from your boss or failing something like an assignment. The bruxism habits can also be active when doing something routine like housework or driving. For some drivers, driving is the trigger for anger (!), especially when you are stuck in traffic or you are running late and then are at risk of being judged for poor time keeping.

Other clients who have received teeth grinding and jaw clenching treatment have mentioned how their bruxism symptoms have acted as repressed coping mechanisms in past “double binding” situations. With these clients, previous abuse and excessive control from cruel partners or overly strict parents had compromised their ability to express their frustration or anger. They were abused when they remained silent, yet any attempt to answer back the abuser would have been met with more abuse or severe punishment (a double binding situation). In these toxic relationships, clamping your jaw shut to “say nothing” was the method of survival. After leaving the relationship, these bruxism symptoms had stayed with the abused clients until seeking therapy.

Is there a link between “awake bruxism” and “sleep bruxism”? Some researchers suggest that when you are unable to fully discharge these negative emotions and physical symptoms in the daytime, they can then be “replayed” during your dreams. Sleep bruxism thus potentially serves this nocturnal reprocessing function in an attempt to release the “unspent” frustration or anger from prvious situations, or to manage the anxiety of future negative situations.



Bruxism signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bruxism can include:

Bruxism dental attrition
Damaged teeth is a major symptom of bruxism
  • Audible (loud) teeth grinding and jaw clenching that can wake your sleep partner.
  • Damaged teeth with eroded enamel or teeth that have become flattened or fractured. This can affect how food is chewed sometimes causing you to bite the inside of your cheeks or your tongue.
  • Teeth that have become sensitive and painful.
  • Jaw joint problems – The TMJ (or temporomandibular joint) can become painful, fatigued especially when chewing food (abnormal bite), displaced (pops or clicks with movement), locked or cause other complications.
  • Structures (muscles) surrounding the TMJ can become painful e.g. neck, face, ears (causing earache) and temples (causing headaches).
  • Disrupted sleep and general fatigue caused by bruxism symptoms.



How is bruxism diagnosed?

The early stages of mild bruxism may be self diagnosed or identified by your sleep partner. You usually experience mild intermittent symptoms of discomfort and pain which may be treatable with pain killers prescribed from you GP. Progressive symptoms of teeth grinding are usually diagnosed by your dentist and then observed over subsequent visits.



Common teeth grinding and jaw clenching treatments

Common teeth grinding and jaw clenching treatment usually falls into the following categories:

Dental treatment: Prescribed splints and mouth guards and help to keep the teeth surfaces apart. Your dentist may also correct teeth surfaces to reduce sensitivity and the ability to chew properly.

Medication: Your GP may prescribe muscle relaxants, antidepressants or anti anxiety medication. Botox injections can also help severe bruxism.

Treating associated conditions: Treating an associated condition such as changing the medication or having a referral to a specialist may help reduce the bruxism symptoms.

Therapy: Therapy can help you manage the emotions behind your symptoms



Teeth grinding and jaw clenching treatment: Hypnotherapy

With nearly 70% of bruxism being caused by stress and anxiety, and hypnotherapy’s reputation for treating automatic unconscious behaviours (habits) like nail biting and hair pulling, hypnotherapy can be considered the ideal choice for teeth grinding and jaw clenching treatment.

Is there any hypnotherapy research related to bruxism? Hypnotherapy research is limited, but there is some evidence of its effectiveness. There is a case study exploring causal emotional connections with bruxism e.g. with a client’s hostile childhood. Another study noted the benefits of hypnotherapy within a small test group using post treatment self reports and EMG recordings.

How can hypnotherapy contribute to your teeth grinding and jaw clenching treatment?

Hypnotherapy can treat the emotions connected to your bruxism

Your teeth grinding and jaw clenching habits will be associated with emotions that launch you into your negative behavioural patterns of coping. Anger, frustration and anxiety are the common emotions that drive the behaviour. Identifying and treating these emotions will help break down the surrounding cognitive structures that maintain your bruxism.

Hypnotherapy can help you manage stress and physical tension

Incorporated into the hypnotic treatment process are stress management techniques that can help your physical reactions to stress e.g. learning self hypnosis and breathing techniques. Your hypnotherapy treatment will also target the areas of your body most affected by bruxism, particularly the muscle tension in your jaw. In hypnosis you are more open to accept suggestions to relax these muscles and integrate these physical changes when you feel under pressure.

Hypnotherapy can identify and remove the cause of your bruxism habit

Habits have an origin with a surrounding belief system that fulfilled your needs in that moment. Over time, the habit became integrated. The physical habit is now redundant but the needs continue to influence your behaviour. Regression techniques can be used to identify these “causal” issues and reframe the needs-habit association. You are then open to change your perception of your past needs and to embrace new behavioural ways to cope with these needs.

Hypnotherapy can break the triggers that surround your habit

The repetition of your teeth grinding and jaw clenching will have converted a conscious habit into an unconscious one. In the early stages of the treatment, you will be more conscious of these situational triggers and your urge to grind your teeth and clench your jaw. Positive suggestions will target this urge to relax the muscles that are now primed to tense up when the situations prompt you.

Teeth grinding and jaw clenching treatment
Hypnotherapy can help you reprogram your unconscious behaviour

Hypnotherapy can help you reprogram your unconscious behaviour

The unconscious mind is considered to hold many automated behaviours like nervous blushing and sweating. Unlike the conscious mind, the unconscious mind acts without thought or reason, maintaining habits once they become established. Teeth grinding and jaw clenching are more examples of unconscious automated behaviours that happen during your day. These behaviours can then leak into your sleep patterns where you have no control over your actions. It can be difficult to consciously “will” yourself to change these behaviours, bypassing the cognitive command centres of the conscious mind and accessing your unconscious mind directly. When you are in a hypnotic, relaxed state, the “doorway” to these unconscious habits is accessible. You can then embrace suggestions to change these unconscious bruxism habits without the interference of the conscious mind.


For more information on teeth grinding and jaw clenching treatment with hypnotherapy, contact Richard J D’Souza Hypnotherapy Cardiff