The Powerful Connection Between Teeth Grinding and Back Pain

If you are constantly waking up in the morning with back pain and you feel achy, sore and well not exactly refreshed, before you go out and splurge on a new mattress, you might want to take a closer look at your teeth and more specifically if you are grinding them.  Your bruxism (the medical term for teeth grinding,) may be an underlying cause of your back pain.

Bruxism is the involuntary grinding or clenching of teeth with excessive force which happens usually during sleep. While it’s a common condition, it often goes undetected so it’s highly possible that you may not even be aware of it.

How is my teeth grinding related to my back pain?

Your neck, shoulders, and back are all connected to your temporomandibular joint which is commonly referred to as 'TMJ' for short. Because the jaw is capable of exerting more than 250 pounds of pressure when clenching, this extra force can irritate the TMJ which connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the skull (temporal bone) in front of your ear. If you feel the back of your jaw, where it connects to your neck, and clench your teeth you'll feel your jaw muscle tighten. The masseter muscle (a facial muscle, used for chewing) sits alongside and works with other muscles along the face and neck. The major one - called the temporalis muscle - connects to your temple. When the temporalis muscle is clenched, it presses against your brain. This causes migraines, but the fun doesn’t end there.   As the jaw tightens, your body reflexively tightens several other contiguous muscles around the neck. This is in an attempt to ensure proper support of your head and spine but the end result is neck and back tension, and of course nerve pain.  

Causes of Bruxism

Even though the exact cause of bruxism is still not fully understood, most medical experts agree that stress is a trigger and teeth grinding is a subconscious attempt by the human body to decrease stress levels. In addition, genetics and other factors such as alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and certain medications can also play a role.

When left untreated, bruxism can result in not only back pain, tension headaches and migraines, but as you can imagine, serious dental issues.  The habitual rubbing of tooth surfaces over time can lead to extreme tooth sensitivity, making it painful to eat, drink or even brush.  Also, eventually your teeth will lose their natural contours so they become flat and even in length, loose teeth, micro-cracks, and even tooth loss can occur. Depending on the severity of the damage, you could be looking at tooth restoration, or even, tooth removal. In any case, dental work is rarely fun or inexpensive. 

What can I do about my teeth grinding?

The long-term effects of bruxism can be quite serious and irreversible which is which is why it’s so important to address your teeth grinding as soon as possible. If you’re not sure you are grinding, some of the obvious telltale signs are waking up with sore, or fatigued jaw muscles; or with a dull headache.  You may even wake yourself up from the unsettling sound of enamel grinding against enamel.  The key is being proactive to recognize the symptoms, and then take preventative steps to avoid recurrence. 

Don't Encourage Your Jaw to Clench

You can actually be guilty of coaxing your jaw into a clenching position. How? If you have a habit of chewing pens, pencils or chewing gum during the day as a way to alleviate stress, you may be getting your jaw muscles used to the 'art' of clenching. Did you know, for example, chewing gum in excess of two hours per day encourages jaw muscles to clench subconsciously, and may increase your chances of grinding your teeth when you are not chewing? Unfortunately, your jaw may decide to repeat the action while you are sleeping.

Reduce Stress

This is easier said than done but finding ways to reduce stress can help to reduce the effects of bruxism, these can include diet modification, exercise, and relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, and acupuncture. 

Be Mindful of Certain Substances

Prescription medications, tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine intake have all been linked to a potential increase in the likelihood as well as the level of intensity of bruxism.

Wear a Grind Guard

Dental experts agree that wearing a well fitted, dental grind guard is the single, most effective treatment in providing relief from the symptoms of bruxism (and a lot less expensive than a new mattress). A dental grind guard provides a barrier between the upper and lower teeth, thus protecting the tooth enamel from rubbing together, preventing the negative effects of bruxism. The Ora-GUARD® dental grind guard is unique with its patented Bite Plate Wedge design that slides the jaw down and forward, releasing tension on the TMJ muscle while preventing tooth damage! Think you or someone you know suffers from bruxism? Consider Ora-GUARD® as part of your oral care routine.