Many of our new patients, upon initial examination, exhibit clinical and radiographic signs of clenching and grinding, i.e. remodeling of the jaw joints, excess enamel wear, TMJ symptoms, etc. When asked about these habits most deny their existence or claim they must be doing them in their sleep.

Having treated patients with clenching/grinding issues since 1972, I have become quite aware that the great majority of them display these habits during the day, as well. Most often, they do them subconsciously during times of stress, while performing repetitive actions, to the beat of music, during intense concentration, etc. Stressful times seem to be the predominant occasion.

Habits are hard to break if we’re not aware we have them. What has worked well for our patients is to sit down with paper and pencil and write down all the stressful events they normally encounter during what they consider an average day, i.e. traffic, particular tasks at work or home, dealing with children, illnesses (pain), etc. Making these lists and reading them often enough to memorize them engages the brain to become sensitive to these events. Then, when experiencing these times of stress, my patients ask themselves the following questions:

  1. Is my tongue tightly suctioned to the roof of my mouth?

  2. Are my cheek muscles tight?

  3. Are my teeth clamped (closed) tightly?

  4. Am I grinding my teeth?

Clenchers, then, are to do the following:

  1. Break the suction the tongue has established with the palate;

  2. Separate the teeth from the clenching position, approximately a third of an inch;

  3. Massage the cheek muscles; and

  4. Take a deep, relaxing, cleansing breath.

Grinders are to do the following:

  1. Separate teeth as stated above;

  2. Massage the cheek muscles; and

  3. Take a deep, cleansing breath.

So, the keys are to identify the times when you are most likely to clench and/or grind and respond as instructed above. If you master the “awake hours”, you will find a dramatic decrease in grinding/clenching in your “sleeping hours.” This regimen will reduce the chances of you developing TMJ symptoms or losing very important enamel covering your teeth.