Before we get further into this post, just stop and check in with yourself. Are the muscles of your jaw relaxed or clenched? What about the muscles of the rest of your face? When you bring your awareness to this area you may realize that you are involuntarily clenching your jaw and face muscles.
So why does this happen and what can you do about it?
Reasons you may be involuntarily clenching your jaw
Disclaimer: We are not going to be looking at medical issues that can cause jaw clenching in this post. Always check with your medical provider to rule out any medical issues associated with this.
1. Stress and anxiety:
This is probably the number one culprit that leads to jaw clenching. When you’re stressed or anxious, this will very often present somewhere in your body in a physical manner. Some other examples of this include having an upset stomach with stress or feeling tightness in your neck or upper traps with stress. The way that stress presents itself in the body is different for everyone.
2. It’s become a habit:
If you are someone that does clench your jaw during stressful times, it may become a habit. So even in times when you are not stressed, you may still catch yourself involuntarily clenching your jaw.
3. Too much caffeine:
Caffeine is a stimulant so if you are already prone to clenching your jaw, this may be increased when you drink caffeine. With things like this, I always think it’s best to notice your own habits. So notice if your jaw symptoms are worse after a cup of coffee. If they’re not, then caffeine may not be having an effect on your jaw clenching.
4. Chewing gum too often:
Chewing gum makes the muscles of the jaw get used to being in a contracted state which may increase the amount of time you unconsciously clench.
TMD (temporomandibular disorder also known as TMJ)
Not everyone who clenches their jaw will have TMD, but if you’re a clencher, you are putting yourself at increased risk of developing TMD.
Upon a google search, I found that there are more than 3 million cases of of TMD in the US per year. My guess would be that a majority of these people clench their jaw. I would also predict that there are way more than 3 million people that clench their jaw but don’t have TMD.
TMD is a general term for dysfunction at the TMJ (the jaw joint). With TMD you may experience clicking of your jaw, limited ability to open your mouth fully, or pain with chewing.
This can happen due to tightness of the jaw muscles from frequent clenching. There is also a disc located at this joint which can also be out of place causing TMD.
If you are someone who grinds their teeth at night, see your dentist for a possible night guard.
If you have TMD I also highly suggest seeing a physical therapist, PT can work wonders on this.
How to stop involuntarily clenching your jaw:
The best thing you can do is to start to train your jaw to live in a resting position instead of living in a tight, clenched position. Clenching is not the natural position that your jaw is supposed to be in.
Here’s how to get your jaw into a resting position:
1. Tune into the muscles of your face and try to let them relax.
2. Allow your teeth to be slightly apart with your lips closed.
3. Gently place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, right behind your two front teeth.
4. Again check in with the jaw and let the muscles relax while in this position.
Congrats you found the resting position of your jaw! Now you just have to train it to live here again.
Check in throughout the day and when you notice that you are clenching, go back to this position.
You can also set a a time to check in on your jaw when you first start working on this. For example, you can check in every hour or so and reset this position to try to break the habit of clenching.
If your jaw clenching is related to stress, find things that work on stress relief for you. There are many activities you can do to relieve stress. Some ideas include yoga, meditation, or taking a nice relaxing bath. Meditating or lying in savasana is a great time to re-educate muscles on relaxation.
I hope you found this helpful. Let’s keep our jaws healthy! 😃
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