Years ago, I gave a presentation on stress at a conference for dentists in Grimsby. During the session, I mentioned tooth grinding or bruxism. One of the dentists ‘kindly’ raised his hand and said ‘You do know you grind your teeth, don’t you?’ I was silently outraged ‘I’m a stress management expert here and I’m all about Zen. I do not grind my teeth!’ Apparently he could tell from the set of my jaw. Shortly after this I went to my dentist who confirmed that he was in fact right.
The person who suffers from bruxism is often the last to know. The first to know might be the person who shares the sufferer’s bed – and is awakened by the rhythmic grinding of the teeth. The sufferer may visit his or her doctor with facial pain, ear ache, neck pain or headache. But only a visit to the dentist will confirm the diagnosis, because the effects of bruxism are immediately visible on the teeth.
Bruxism is the unconscious nocturnal grinding of the teeth. In severe cases, a gum-guard can be used. The jaw is an efficient crushing machine, and unconscious grinding can put thousands of pounds of pressure per square inch onto the teeth. Where enamel is destroyed, the dentin is exposed and the teeth can become sensitive and even break. This is why many bruxism sufferers have symptoms in their jaws, ears and in the form of headaches and migraines and neck and shoulder tightness.
But it is not just a dental problem…
The real treatment and cure lies in dealing with the root cause – the stress and the repressed feelings and even creativity. Often those who suffer from bruxism are perfectionistic high-achievers who may have difficulties establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries in their work and home life – they simply find it difficult to say ‘no’. Such individuals may also avoid asking for help and sharing their anxieties with others, even loved ones.
So what is the holistic solution to addressing bruxism short of going to bed looking like Hannibal Lecter?
Some techniques for managing bruxism:
1. Say it – Become more aware of how much you give and who is supporting you – do you have a good friend or partner who listens to you? Or do you find that you are the one who always does the listening? Are you the ‘counselor’ for all of your friends?
2. Write it – Journal keeping – if you find it difficult to talk about your problems, try keeping a diary or journal. Write down your thoughts, fears and anxieties as they arise. The best time to do this is before you go to bed or first thing in the morning.
3. Learn to relax – join a yoga class where there is an emphasis on breath work (pranayama) and deep relaxing postures
4. Sing or play a musical wind instrument such as a flute or a clarinet
5. Practice jaw exercises:
The lion pose – inhale deeply through your nose, exhale forcefully through your mouth making an AAAAAAH sound while opening your mouth wide. Hold this for a few seconds then close your mouth and repeat the exercise and this time stretch your tongue out and down. Try opening your mouth a little wider each time.
The jaw ‘waggle’ – loosen your jaw by gripping your chin gently between finger and thumb and then ‘waggling’ the jaw. Try letting some sound through at the same time. If you can warble perfectly your jaw is nice and loose!
Voo sound – sit comfortably, inhale deeply through mouth, exhale and make the sound VOOOOOOO with eyes and mouth open feeling the sound vibrate against your teeth, lips and out of your mouth. Imagine you’re sending the sound out through your eyes.
Do one of these exercises for 5 minutes each night before going to sleep perhaps after or before you clean your teeth to relax the jaw muscles.
I’m happy to say I no longer grind my teeth – it really got better when I started writing my books.
And watch this space – next week’s blog will contain the link to sign up for my new webinar programme in April.
Live well, love well, sleep well