Clenching of the teeth is more common than teeth grinding at night and is a frequent behavioral tendency during the day. In fact, you may be surprised to know that during the day the upper teeth and lower teeth should never rest on each other or touch. It certainly is not natural for the teeth to stay in contact during the day. Once in contact the muscles of your face tighten and you are essentially making a fist in your face.
For many people, this tendency has no consequences other than building the size and strength of their jaw muscles. For some, however, this tendency if persistent can fatigue and injure muscles giving rise to facial pain, headaches, and jaw problems. Over time, the Temporomandibular Joints (TMJ’s) can be strained due to this overuse activity leading to pain, inflammation and mechanical problems due to joint clicking, popping and locking.
For the most part, this tooth-on-tooth tendency is learned over the course of time and is typically a behavioral response to life stresses, challenges, conflicts and emotions. When challenged by life, many of my patients also brace their jaw muscles, jut their jaws, furrow their brow, or tighten their shoulder and back muscles. Over time all of these tendencies can lead to the fatigue of the muscles involved in these unnatural and taxing postures. Once fatigued, these muscles become sore as a result of the build up of lactic acid and other irritating chemicals.
If the muscles continue to be overworked and fatigued, further physical changes can occur with the formation of muscle trigger points which can begin to refer pain elsewhere. What starts out as an emotionally driven learned behavior can often lead to much more serious concerns.
I work to teach patients how to maintain a new and more relaxed jaw posture that with time can eliminate some of their symptoms. And, there are many other treatment strategies that can help to manage this often destructive, but mostly unconscious, behavioral tendency.