Do you clench your jaw or grind your teeth?
If you have ever heard someone grinding their teeth during their sleep, and just how loud it is, you will have some idea how powerful the jaw muscles can be.
Jaw clenching and grinding (called bruxism) falls into two categories: awake and sleep bruxism.
The causes of this disorder are not fully understood, but stress and psychosocial factors are strongly associated with these conditions, particularly the awake form.
Bruxism, if present, is an important factor to address in jaw pain and TMJ disorders. However, the evidence does not point to any definitive, effective treatment.
If bruxism is causing excessive tooth wear, dental intervention is suggested, often for prescription mouth devices to prevent tooth wear at night.
If anxiety, depression or psychological factors are thought to be associated with bruxism, psychological support is also recommended.
Assuming that bruxism is due to a subconscious mechanism when awake, and an unconscious mechanism at night, we may want to direct intervention to our habits during awake times.
Becoming more aware of our jaw tension and habits will form the foundation for a mindfulness approach.
I recommend a guided TMJ meditation as an exercise to become more skilful in this awareness, and to help relax the powerful jaw muscles. The idea is that if we can become more conscious of this subconscious pattern, helping to change our habits during the day, there will be an affect in reducing the unconscious pattern during sleep.
There has not been any research into this, but practising some meditation and becoming more aware of our awake habits certainly cannot hurt!
If you suffer from bruxism, you might want to try our guided, 10-minute, TMJ mindfulness exercise.
I suggest practising this formally each day (or night before you sleep), and also trying to check in with jaw as may times as you can throughout the day. See if you can run your tongue between your teeth. If your jaw is clenched, think soft tongue, soft eyes and smooth brow. Perseverance is the key. Hang loose!