If you frequently experience painful bruxism symptoms (sore or painful jaw and facial muscles, headaches) that get worse throughout the day, you might have ‘awake bruxism’. This happens when you are unconsciously clenching or gritting your teeth throughout the day. Rest assured, you’re not alone. It is estimated that 1 in 3 adults in developed countries do this on a regular basis.
Research suggests that there is a strong correlation between awake bruxism and pyschological distress, typically associated with type A personalities and those in high-stress professions.
Most experts recommend stress reduction and behavioral training to help manage awake bruxism. The first step is to create awareness when you’re clenching your teeth. Most individuals don’t even realize they’re bracing their jaws or teeth in a fixed position for a long time. You’re probably in the habit of doing it subconsciously. Also, these jaw movements tend to happen silently (without a sound), which makes it even more difficult to spot.
Set reminders to stop clenching teeth while awake
Recent research & clinical experience indicate that creating awareness of the behavior is the first step towards undoing this unconscious habit.
Researchers use Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) – the practice of alerting individuals at random times during the day – to “check-in” and assess their jaw position, teeth contact, and overall stress level.
This prevents situations where you’re tensing your jaws for hours at a time without realizing it. These reminders also serve to create a more positive habit for you. They remind you to breathe, to relax your jaws and to be more aware of your mental state.
There are a few apps and reminder methods that can help you to practice EMA and stop clenching your teeth during the day. Alternatively, you can always use your smartphone. Set a few notifications / reminders at random times or intervals during the day (for example, every 15 mins) and follow the steps below.
Learn how to relax your jaws and stop clenching teeth while awake
1. Set reminders throughout the day
Use your phone alarm function or calendar functions (or specialized apps) to set a few notifications at random times throughout the day. Start with one notification every 15-30 minutes.
2. Check in with yourself
Take note of your breathing, where your jaw and teeth are, and your feeling at the moment.
- Is your jaw relaxed?
- Are your teeth touching?
- Have you been unconsciously clenching / gritting your teeth?
- Are you bracing your jaws (contracting your jaws in a fixed position)?
- How is your breathing: are you breathing fast and shallow (signs of stress)?
- How are you feeling?
3. Breathe & relax
Take this opportunity to take a break and inhale a big, deep breath in. Release it all in one big sigh, letting your shoulders drop and hang loose.
If you can, stand up and stretch. Or just look up from your monitor / screen (or book) and look outside your window. Remind yourself that you are safe and sound, and visualize the tension in your jaws slowly melting away like a slab of ice melting under the warmth of the sun.
4. Repeat these steps whenever the reminder goes off
Continue your day until the next alarm. Repeat the previous three steps when the reminder goes off. Don’t view them as an annoyance but as a friendly nudge and a reward for the work you are currently doing to reset your body and your mind. Over time, you can lengthen the time interval between reminders.
Handy tools that can help you break your clenching habit
Without an awareness of the awake bruxism behaviors and their possible consequences, it might be difficult for you to manage the stress or tension in other ways than clenching the jaws. By checking in regularly, you’ll prevent yourself from long periods of non-stop clenching. You’ll also become more aware of your body and be able to quickly notice when you’re clenching your teeth while awake. Over time, you’ll hopefully be able to realize when your emotional state or environmental stress is about to cause you to tense up.
We’ve listed below some applications and tools that you might find helpful to do bring more awareness to your habits and to start “reprogramming” them.
BruxApp is the first smartphone application to be developed specifically for the management of awake bruxism. It addresses concerns such as diagnosis, management, prevention, and scientific research of awake bruxism.
BruxApp sends customized sound alerts to remind you to be aware of what’s going on with your mouth and to correct negative habits. It helps patients focusing their attention on the mouth area (teeth, jaw muscles, temporomandibular joints), and noticing when they’re clenching their teeth while awake.
This application was created by Dr. Manfredini – a bruxism expert in Italy. By using this mobile application, you’ll also be helping their research, as the app seeks to collect data about awake bruxism behavior. You can do this in the app by entering data points about your personal assessment of your jaw position. It does this by focusing on the assessment of 4 conditions: teeth contact, teeth clenching, teeth grinding, and jaw clenching (without teeth contact).
BruxApp also provides a first diagnostic orientation on the possible presence/absence of awake bruxism. The application collects the data recorded by the patient in real-time (EMA recording evaluation) and then elaborates them after a 7-day observation period. The findings may help the patient to further assess their condition and for clinicians to help give a clinically-based diagnosis.
2. Mindfulness Bell
This app rings a beautiful Tibetan singing bowl at a specified interval – or random intervals – throughout the day. Simply set the times that you want to hear the bell and tap “Start”.
The simplicity of the app helps to remove distractions and remind you of your goal. Whether you’re looking to remind yourself to relax or to practice mindfulness, this app will help keep you on track. If you’re interested in downloading it on your phone, it’s available for iOS and Android devices.
For those who do not have or want to have their phone with them giving reminders all day, check out Remind. This small device can help you remember to check-in and change your behavior over time.
Remind is a FOB-like reminder device you can discreetly carry with you (in your pocket, sock, bra, wristband, necklace, etc). It vibrates several times per hour, to remind you to check in, take a deep breath and relax your jaws.
Awareness is the first step
Unfortunately there’s no magic cure to stop teeth clenching (gritting) during the day. Developing awareness of this unconscious behavior is the first step. So whether you use the tools we’ve listed here or find your own solution, just remember to check-in regularly and learn to relax your jaw muscles. Sometimes even the simplest solutions might surprise you, like a good old Post-it-Notes reminder in easy-to-see places.
Whether you’re trying to build a new habit or break one, the key is to practice it often. (several times per hour) and for at least 2-3 months. Because it’s not just developing a new habit, but it’s also about breaking down old habits.
Some of the tips and tools provided here can help you get started, by serving as a cue for you to become more aware of your teeth position, to relax your jaws, or even just to stand up and stretch. If this process is done often enough, the new habit may become a more natural behavior.
Bracci, A., Djukic, G., Favero, L., Salmaso, L., Guarda-Nardini, L., & Manfredini, D. (2018). Frequency of awake bruxism behaviours in the natural environment. A 7-day, multiple-point observation of real-time report in healthy young adults. Journal of Oral Rehabilitation, 45(6), 423–429. https://doi.org/10.1111/joor.12627
Goldstein, R. E., & Auclair Clark, W. (2017). The clinical management of awake bruxism. The Journal of the American Dental Association, 148(6), 387–391. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adaj.2017.03.005