6 Expert-Backed Tips to Help You Stop Clenching Your Jaw


Maybe you’ve noticed yourself repeatedly tensing your jaw during crunch time at work, or perhaps your partner has woken you up to say they heard you grinding your teeth in your sleep. You may even have noticed related symptoms like jaw pain, headaches, or chipped teeth.

If any of this sounds familiar, you might be clenching your jaw, a common practice that sounds harmless enough but can lead to unpleasant side effects if it’s not managed. Here’s why many of us are guilty of this habit and how to stop clenching your jaw (your teeth will thank you).

Experts In This Article

What is jaw clenching?

Also known as bruxism, jaw clenching is a condition that causes someone to clench, gnash, or grind their teeth. Jaw clenching can occur during the day (called wakeful or diurnal bruxism) or while a person is asleep (known as nocturnal or sleep bruxism), according to the National Library of Medicine.

Many people who clench their jaws don’t realize they’re doing it, and bruxism is sometimes mild enough not to cause many issues. But for other people, jaw clenching can contribute to more bothersome side effects ranging from chipped teeth to headaches to jaw dislocation.

Why do some people clench their jaw?

More research is needed on jaw clenching, but experts believe bruxism is likely caused by a combination of genetics, lifestyle factors (alcohol, caffeine, and smoking may up your risk), and psychosocial factors like stress and anxiety, per the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Sleep disorders and certain medications can also play a role.

Anyone can develop bruxism, but the condition seems to be especially prevalent in children, adolescents, and young adults, the Cleveland Clinic notes. However, because jaw clenching so often occurs while someone is asleep, it’s difficult for experts to pinpoint exactly how many people are affected.

We do know that jaw clenching caused by stress and anxiety is very common. “If people don’t deal with anxiety in a healthy way, the body keeps score and will retain the stress, including through jaw clenching,” says David H. Rosmarin, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and founder of the Center for Anxiety.

During the day, a person might subconsciously grind or clench their jaw in stressful situations or when feeling nervous. “Awake bruxism is thought to be caused by stress, anxiety, frustration, tension, or anger,” says Deanna Snitzer, DDS, a dentist based in Salinas, California, and a national spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. “Sometimes it’s a habit associated with deep concentration on a specific task.”

At night, someone who has been absorbing a lot of stress during the day might clench their jaw at night. Both situations are a bodily response to the mind feeling overwhelmed, Rosmarin explains.

Signs of jaw clenching

Bruxism affects far more than just the jaw: Your teeth, head, and face can also be affected. These wide-ranging symptoms are one reason why jaw clenching can be tricky to diagnose, as well as the fact that it usually happens when someone is either unconscious or unaware they’re doing it. So it’s all the more important to keep an eye out for the signs listed below.

If you’ve been clenching your jaw, you may notice signs of teeth grinding like:

  • Changes to your teeth: This might include chipped, cracked, or flattened teeth, or teeth that are suddenly more sensitive than they used to be. Your dentist may tell you that you have worn tooth enamel, which is when the inner layers of the teeth become exposed.
  • Jaw pain: The muscles of your jaw might feel sore or tense, and in serious bruxism cases the jaw can become dislocated. Jaw clenching can also contribute to temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, which cause the jaw to pop, click, or become difficult to open.
  • Pain in other parts of the head and face: People who clench their jaws might experience general facial pain, as well as headaches or soreness on the insides of their cheeks.
  • Sleep problems: Clenching your jaw at night may cause you to wake up more frequently. If you have a partner, they might also clue you in: “Many patients report that their sleep partner can hear them grinding and clenching at night,” says Dr. Snitzer.

Pro tip: If you’re a jaw-clencher, there’s a good chance you also have a tight pelvic floor, because (surprise) there’s a connection between your jaw and pelvic floor.

How to prevent and stop clenching your jaw

Many people grow out of a jaw-clenching habit, especially children, and sometimes the condition doesn’t cause noticeable side effects. For those with more troublesome cases, though, there isn’t one specific treatment or cure.

If jaw clenching is damaging your teeth, your dentist may prescribe a mouthguard (more on this below), but bruxism caused by stress takes time to address. “There isn’t an immediate solve,” Rosmarin says.

Still, there are a few things you can do to help relieve jaw tension and ease up on the grinding.

1. Keep up with your regular dental checkups

“The best way to stop clenching is to visit your general dentist for evaluation to determine the potential causes of the bruxism and prescribe the most appropriate treatment for your specific situation,” says Dr. Snitzer.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends twice-yearly checkups for most people, but schedule an appointment with your dentist sooner if you’re between sessions and noticing the symptoms above. At your appointment, your dentist will examine your teeth for signs of bruxism. They may also recommend a custom mouthguard, which you can wear at night to protect your teeth.

2. Focus on reducing stress during the day

“Often people look at the physiological aspect of stress and anxiety as a medical issue, when in fact there’s something emotional and behavioral going on,” Rosmarin says. “We’re looking at the symptoms of the problem as opposed to the root of it.”

If you suspect your jaw clenching is being exacerbated by stress, he recommends addressing the root cause—your stress and anxiety—first and foremost. This might include working on strategies to help you de-stress during the day, such as practicing mindful meditation and/or deep breathing, fitting in time to exercise, making changes to your workload or schedule as needed, and possibly speaking with a licensed therapist.

3. Try biofeedback

Some research suggests this type of therapy, in which a certified practitioner uses an electronic instrument to measure your muscle activity, may be helpful for people with wakeful bruxism. The idea is that by being more aware of the muscle movements in your jaw, you can better manage the clenching behavior throughout the day.

The Association for Applied Psychology and Biofeedback is one resource that can help you find qualified biofeedback practitioners near you, or you can ask your dentist or primary-care doctor for a referral.

4. Keep a journal

Some people find it helpful to have a journal handy and take notes when they notice themselves jaw clenching. This might make it easier to pinpoint stress-inducing situations that happen regularly (for example, maybe you’ll notice that you frequently jaw-clench when you’re up against a work deadline). If you observe any patterns, you can start making changes to address them.

5. Practice holding your jaw properly

If your dentist confirms you have bruxism,  ask them to show you the best way to hold your mouth and jaw to release tension and ease discomfort. Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that for some people, resting your tongue upwards on the jaw while keeping your lips closed and teeth apart can help, too. You can also try these dentist-approved jaw exercises to help strengthen the area and relieve tension.

6. Adopt healthy lifestyle habits

Smoking, alcohol, and caffeine have been linked to nocturnal bruxism, so experts recommend avoiding these substances during the day if you’re prone to clenching at night.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.

  1. The National Library of Medicine, StatPearls. “Bruxism Management,” Oct. 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482466/. Accessed Feb. 21, 2024.

  2. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. “Bruxism,” Jul. 2022. https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/bruxism. Accessed Feb. 21, 2024.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. “Bruxism (Teeth Grinding),” Dec. 2023. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10955-teeth-grinding-bruxism. Accessed Feb. 21, 2024.

  4. American Dental Academy. “Your Top 9 Questions About Going to the Dentist—Answered!” 2024. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/dental-care-concerns/questions-about-going-to-the-dentist. Accessed Feb. 21, 2024.

  5. National Library of Medicine. “Principles for the Management of Bruxism,” Jul. 2008. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18557917/. Accessed 21 Feb. 2024.

  6. Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Bruxism,” 2024. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/bruxism. Accessed 21 Jul. 2024.

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