The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

My Face Hurts

Does anyone else grind their teeth at night? How about during the day?

It started sometime last year, around the end of the summer, but I didn’t notice it until September. I’d started waking up with inexplicable headaches that didn’t dissipate during the day. I’d take pain medications, sinus medications, thinking one or the other would fix it.

Then I realized that not only did I have a headache, but my face hurt too, especially my cheeks and my jaw muscles. I realized I was probably clenching or grinding my teeth at night, something called bruxism.

Bruxism is the medical term for grinding, gnashing or clenching your teeth. The condition affects both children and adults.

Some people with bruxism unconsciously clench their teeth together during the day, often when they feel anxious or tense. This is different from tooth grinding or clenching that occurs at night, which is called sleep bruxism. Most children who are bruxers do so at night, while adults are either daytime or nighttime bruxers.

Bruxism may be mild and may not even require treatment past a simple TMJ mouth guard. However, it can be frequent and severe enough to lead to jaw disorders, headaches, damaged teeth and other problems. Unfortunately, people with sleep bruxism usually aren’t aware of the habit, so they aren’t diagnosed with the condition until complications occur. That’s why it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of bruxism and to seek regular dental care.

It was probably stress related when it started, since at the time I was somewhat under-employed and we were in the middle of an adoption that eventually fell through. The several months since then have been a slow process of regaining lost ground financially and professionally. Plus, we became parents again, with all the usual stuff that goes with it. So, I went out and got a night guard to wear while I slept, and that seemed to do the trick for a while,

But now I find I’m doing it during the day. I’ll be at work or at home, and I’ll be clenching my teeth without realizing it until I’m in pain. I guess I’m one of those “daytime bruxers.” The problem is, I haven’t found anything similar to my nightguard that I might be able to wear during the day that’s relatively undetectable. I did find something called an NTI-tss device, which I learned about here. But I’d have to get a dentist to fit it for me.

Here’s the problem. I’ve never had a problem with my teeth or their alignment. So it’s most like that the cause is psychological.

In adults, psychological factors seem to be associated with bruxism, including:

* Anxiety, stress or tension
* Suppressed anger or frustration
* Aggressive, competitive or hyperactive personality type

Anxiety? Yup. Tension? Yup. Stress? Yup. And I’ve blogged about suppressed anger and frustration before.

There is a natural solution.

Handle the stress in your life. You’re more prone to bruxism if you let stress get to you before you get to it–one reason why hard-driving, stressaholic, Type A personalities are particularly susceptible to tooth grinding, says Neil Gottehrer, D.D.S., director of the Craniofacial Pain Center in Abington, Pennsylvania. “Many sublimate frustration or aggression into jaw clenching or tooth grinding.”

His advice: Squeeze a tennis ball when you feel stressed, or practice a regular stress reduction technique such as meditation, listening to music or another pastime that helps you unwind and release stress before it takes up permanent residence in your gut.

But that’s easier said than done. If I could just “handle the stress” in my life then I probably wouldn’t have a headache nearly every day. I’m not a “hard-driving, stressaholic, Type A” personality by any stretch of the imagination. (Almost no one who knows me would consider me a Type A, definitely.) But there are significant sources of stress, anxiety and frustration in my life, much of it suppressed, because if I don’t suppress it then I won’t be able to meet the needs of my family or people I work with.

So, what do you do if the sources of stress and frustration probably aren’t going to go away any time soon? Sure, meditation might help, and doing some yoga might be good. But finding a pastime? The last half of that word is time, and when it comes to use of my time (mind, or body for that matter) a lot of other people have dibs on that, and I seem to be last in line. How or when that’s going to change isn’t something I know right now.

What I know is that my face hurts, and it’s not from smiling.

If it doesn’t get better soon, I’ll be off to the dentist. If I can’t fix the problem right now, at least I can knock out the symptom.


  1. I have a little teeth grinding problem too, doesn’t sound as bad as yours though. And I know what you mean about stress and time. I don’t have two kids either and it’s still tough! What I can offer is get a “white noise” or a “pink noise” CD to play when you go to bed. I recently discovered this and it’s very stress relieving.

  2. go to your local sporting goods store and get yourself a boil-and-bite mouthguard.

    pop it in before you go to sleep and you can grind your teeth as much as you’d like, you won’t do any damage and you won’t wake up with a splitting headache!

    plus, its far cheaper than going to the dentist, who would probably do nothing more than prescribe a custom-made mouthpiece.

    trust me, i know. My father is a dentist.

  3. I have a custom fit mouth guard from my dentist. I got it because the dentist was noticing the beginning of stress in my teeth. I had agreed when he told me that if I tended to have headaches this could help. It did – starting the first day. I have a small mouth and am not confident that I could get a pre-made one that would be comfortable.

    I’m on my second one. I chewed through the first in about 2 years.

  4. oh…I don’t do this very often but if I am particularly stressed (like sitting down to grade 50 papers) I do sometimes put it in during they day. Chewing gum also works as a day-time alternative.

  5. I tried the guard from the drugstore, but it was a little too bulky for me to sleep with. The guard from the dentist is better. I don’t think I do it during the day though.

  6. I’m going through an excruciating version of the same thing. I am under a lot of stress right now, but since none of the stressful factors in my life seem bound to change at any point soon, I’m left with daily pain in my jaw, face, temples and teeth. Arrrghh!!! Frustrated doesn’t begin to describe. I haven’t tried a mouth guard yet, but I think that most of my clenching happens during the day. I spend my days at work in front of a computer and my nights at school doing the same. My boyfriend just looked over at me from across the room and told me he could see my jaw muscles jumping like I was gnawing on gum! Eegads! I stretch my mouth, do yoga/pilates, exercise regularly, do the facial yoga “lion pose”, massage my jaw muscles…what else should one do to stop clenching? My doctor had no suggestions other than “relax” and “try advil if it’s bad”.
    Well, I’ve clenched through to my forehead now and am glad to have vented. I know this isn’t a terribly recent post, but maybe someone will come through with some advice. Cheers!

  7. I’ve been through two NTI devices. All that they do is stop me from damaging my teeth. They don’t seem to address the root cause of grinding/clenching, nor do they stop my jaw muscles from being tight.

    If you do go with the NTI device, make sure that your dental practitioner does not grind down the top portion of the device. The most helpful part of my first device (prior to it being ground at an angle) was that it was tall enough to keep my teeth further apart. This seemed to keep me from clenching with as much vigor. I would suggest finding something that will go on your front teeth (mine was fitted to my lower front teeth) and that you can barely close your mouth around. I felt my jaw relaxing, and had less tinnitus (ringing of the ears) until my dentist cut it down.

    I find that I have started “sawing” my bite guards, so I begin to get divots in them, which allow me to clench with more force. I’m looking for something else that doesn’t cost me $500 a pop, especially since I seem to keep wearing bite guards out. I’ve briefly considered trying a ball gag (like in Pulp Fiction), but was concerned about over-salivation and what people would think if they saw it.

  8. Subconscious tooth grinding (bruxism) is a serious problem for a lot of people. Over 1 million people in the USA wake up in pain every day from nighttime tooth grinding. I am an inventor (invented Laser Tag and a bunch of other cool stuff), and I had enough friends who suffered from the problem that I have taken several years of my life and worked on the problem. During my divorce I started grinding and clenching my teeth as well and began using one of my own inventions (a biofeedback headband that helps people kick the habit of nighttime tooth grinding). Once tooth grinding has become a habit, it doesn’t matter what the initial cause was, because you can remove that cause and the habit remains. There are many ways to interrupt a habit and modify the habitual behavior. For a fairly complete list of the ways that have worked for different people to kick the habit of tooth grinding, check out the non-profit resource website