We all get teeth-grindingly mad from time to time, but if you are regularly clenching and grinding your teeth, you could be not only causing serious damage to your mouth and jaw, but also creating pain for your neck.
Medically speaking, teeth grinding is known as bruxism. It happens sporadically for everyone, but some people do it constantly, which becomes problematic. There are a few possible reasons for it, from the emotional – stress, anxiety – to the physical – dental disorders such as missing or disarranged teeth, an abnormal bite, or TMJ. Emotional problems such as excess tension or stress are usually the strongest factor.
Many people aren’t even aware that they have bruxism: most teeth-grinding and jaw-clenching occurs during sleep, so unless you wake yourself up with it – or wake someone else up with it – you might have no clue other than a sore jaw, lingering pain, and possible tooth problems. And of course, the longer it continues, the more likely it is to cause complications, especially more damaging ones.
The most common symptoms and complications of excessive teeth grinding are damage to the teeth and jaw; that being said, many people also experience pain in their head and neck as well. This is because the tension from clenching and grinding strains the muscles in the neck; when it occurs for long periods of time, over the course of days or weeks or months, it can irritate the muscles, causing them to become inflamed and painful. Neck muscles also tend to tighten or strain in response to stress on their own, so even if the bruxism isn’t the direct cause of neck pain, the two can be related, especially where stress is a factor.
Treating the cause of bruxism is essential to treating any neck pain that results from it. Reducing tension and stress is the best solution, but if you chew on other non-food items such as pens, you should break that habit, as it encourages night-time teeth grinding. Wearing a mouthguard, which your dentist can make for you, is also a great treatment option. Finally, before bed, press a warm washcloth to your lower cheek and neck, to help relax the muscles there, and sooth any that are already painful.