Ever woken up with a sore, stiff jaw? Same. I, too, am a perpetual jaw clencher, and it’s not just a nighttime issue either. I’ve caught myself clenching at all hours of the day while doing various random things like walking up the stairs or taking a shower. I’ve noticed I do it the most while I’m in the flow writing or doing something that requires concentration. So basically, I clench my jaw a lot. Maybe you can relate. Or, perhaps you’re like my fiancé, who grinds his teeth so loudly at night it literally wakes me up. Either way, it sucks. And what’s more, teeth grinding and jaw clenching changes your face shape.
So, not only are these grinding and clenching annoying habits—and potentially painful—over time, they can also cause some other serious consequences, such as changing your entire face shape. Yes, really. Keep scrolling to learn how it happens, and most importantly, how to prevent it.
How teeth grinding and jaw clenching changes your face
Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, and clenching can eventually change your entire face shape, according to Chris Salierno, DDS, a dentist and chief dental officer for Tend, a chain of modern dental studios. “Your teeth define the height of the lower half of your face, so when they are shorter [due to grinding] or are missing, your nose and chin will come closer together,” he explains. Although rarer, he also notes that the excessive muscle activity can change the appearance of the jawline, making it look rounder and bulkier.
Long before you notice any facial change, though, there are other adverse effects of this pesky habit. For one, there’s the discomfort. Dr. Salierno says that after a night of grinding your teeth and clenching your jaw real tight, you’ll likely wake up with muscle and tooth discomfort from all the activity, which can last throughout the day. Some people, he adds, may even suffer from joint pain in the area, also known as TMJ disorder, which can be debilitating.
Furthermore, teeth grinding damages your teeth. Dr. Salierno says you may experience chipping, breaking, or flattening of the teeth, all of which can cause significant discomfort, sensitivity, and cosmetic issues (ie, your pearly whites may not look as good as they once did).
The silver lining is that the face shape changes caused by teeth grinding and clenching can be improved. However, Dr. Salierno says it requires a lot of dental work. “If your teeth can be saved, then a dentist can restore their height with restorations like crowns,” he says. “Teeth that are missing or that are too far damaged can be replaced by other means, such as dental implants. The challenge in these cases is that often the entire mouth has to be rehabilitated.” In other words, it’s not an ideal scenario, but it can be done. The goal, though, should be preventing face changes from happening in the first place, which brings us to our next point.
How to prevent teeth grinding and clenching
Teeth grinding and clenching can happen during the day and night. If you’re a daytime grinder or clencher, it’s a little easier to break the habit because, well, you’re awake while you’re doing it. That said, Dr. Salierno cautions that it’ll still be challenging. The key is being mindful of what your mouth is doing throughout the day. “When you’re at rest, and your mouth is closed, your teeth should not be touching,” he says. “If they are, you may subconsciously start clenching or grinding.” To help, he offers the mantra “lips together, teeth apart” to remind you to unclench your jaw.
For grinding and clenching at night, there are two prevention options: Dr. Salierno recommends wearing a night guard every night. It’s not the sexiest look, for sure, but your face is worth it. “A night guard will help protect your teeth and can greatly reduce muscle activity,” he says, adding that it’s very important that a dentist designs one for you. Though cheaper than a custom one, an over-the-counter night guard won’t cut it. One designed just for you will have a better fit and do a better job at protecting your teeth and, therefore, your face shape.
Botox is another option since it helps relax the jaw muscles. “Some patients benefit from injections into their larger chewing muscles,” Dr. Salierno says. “It’s not a permanent effect, but it can give great relief for months.”
So the takeaway? Protect your precious face shape by unclenching your jaw and rocking a night guard at bedtime. Also, investing in a tension-reducing jaw massage tool or giving yourself an acupressure massage certainly won’t hurt.
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