My mouth sounds like an industrial rock crusher at night. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. I count myself among the 5 to 13 percent of the population who struggle with bruxism, a common sleep disorder also known as teeth-grinding. And my case is severe.
Of course, I’m completely unaware of how I sound, since I’m asleep. But my girlfriend assures me it’s bad. “My fear is that your teeth are going to explode,” she explains. “The sound is very sharp. It doesn’t sound like any teeth-grinding I’ve ever heard before.”
She endures that horrific, high-pitched sound about three times a week. It can wake her out of a dead sleep. And while I’m sure that’s extremely annoying, she swears she’s not mad at me. Mostly, she worries about me cracking another tooth.
I’ve been grinding my teeth ever since I was young, and as I’ve learned, it usually happens when I’m talking in my dreams. My first clue into this insight came to me, appropriately enough, through a dream. I was at Wrigley Field watching a Chicago Cubs game with Frank Sinatra. During the game, Sinatra leaned over and asked me if I’d like to know the secret to life. “Of course,” I eagerly answered. Sinatra grinned, then he opened his mouth to speak. But to my horror, out came the voice of my friend whose floor I was sleeping on that night. In a full volume shout, he barked, “Shut! The! Fuck! Up!”
I’ve tried everything you can think of that’s commonly prescribed to quit, like mouthguards. All kinds of mouthguards, in fact. I even had my dentist make me custom ones fitted exactly to my teeth. But I chewed through them in a few months. I also tried heavy-duty football mouthguards, which didn’t last much longer. Meanwhile, I swallowed beads of masticated plastic every night.
I’ve also tried meditation, various alternative medicines, hypnotism and tapes with subliminal messages. At this point, I’m hoping some tech bro decides to invent a watch that shocks me in my sleep whenever I grind my teeth. Could work. I don’t know. Look, I’m not a doctor.
Until that day comes, though, me and my fellow ruthless teeth grinders are left to look to the internet for the answers. Here’s what it suggests…
Have You Tried… Relaxing?
This is among the most common pieces of “advice” you’ll find online — or hear IRL. Dentists are particularly fond of recommending you try to “unwind before you go to bed” and advising that you “take a warm bath,” or “apply a heating pad of warm, wet towel to your jaw” or “drink herbal caffeine-free tea to warm up your mouth.”
But I’ve tried all of these approaches — none of which get close to calming my jaw. Using a “warm, wet towel” is essentially like bringing a water gun to a raging wildfire.
Level of Protection: For the occasional teeth grinder
Maybe It’s the Medication You Take
If relaxation fails, dentists and therapists will start asking more probing questions, such as, “Are you on any antidepressants?” The British National Health Service (NHS) “takes the stance that [teeth-grinding] might be a side effect of medications, in particular SSRIs.” Some SSRIs, often prescribed for depression, are linked with “difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body and shivering, severe muscle stiffness or twitching.”
But in my case, I don’t take antidepressants so this offers no solution.
The NHS also notes that a person is more likely to grind their teeth at night, if they “talk or mumble while asleep; behave violently while asleep, such as kicking out or punching; have sleep paralysis, a temporary inability to move or speak while waking up or falling asleep; and/or have hallucinations, where you see or hear things that are not real, while semi-conscious.”
This last bit is closer in line with the teeth-grinding I experience, but the NIH offers no sound advice other than possibly switching antidepressants.
Level of Protection: Personally dependent
Maybe It’s the Booze You Drink
Since their business is the protection of teeth, you might expect companies such as Colgate or Crest to have at least a modicum of helpful advice. And you would be correct. As Colgate warns, “Consuming stimulating substances, such as caffeine, coffee, tea, soda or chocolate, after dinner can affect your quality of sleep and therefore make you more likely to clench while sleeping.” It could also be the booze you pour down your gullet before bed. As Colgate reminds, “Alcohol is known to affect your sleep quality negatively, so it’s best to avoid nightcaps if you suffer from nighttime teeth clenching.”
Strangely, though, alcohol consumption has no effect on my teeth-grinding — and I drink often enough to properly test the theory out.
Level of Protection: Possibly helpful to the light teeth grinder, or someone who drinks too much
Stop Putting These Things in Your Mouth
If you’re looking for the least helpful advice, there are ample dentists and therapists out there who want to remind you “not to chew things that aren’t food.” That means don’t put pens, pen caps, erasers, gum or whatever you put in your mouth that’s not food. The idea is that chewing on random things during the day loads the jaw up with tension that’s released in your sleep as teeth-grinding.
Level of Protection: Possibly good for children (and idiots?)
Start Putting These Things in Your Mouth
Have you ever heard of turmeric milk? Do you know which foods are high in magnesium? Do you know how to add some extra vitamin B and C to your diet? These are the next-level questions you’ll find when you wander down the path of those who say “food is the first medicine.”
Let’s start with turmeric milk. It has anti-inflammatory properties believed to relax a stressed-out jaw, and it encourages sleep and chills out your nervous system. It’s the heavy-duty version of “try drinking some tea” before bed. Another option is to up your magnesium intake. If you don’t know how to go about doing that, try adding servings of black-eyed peas, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, flaxseed, avocado, spinach, almonds and bananas to your meals.
Level of Protection: No idea, but it will give you something to talk about
Eat More Organ Meats
Hands down the wildest solution I found for teeth-grinding was eating more organ meats. You know, liver, kidneys, stomach, etc. It might sound gross, but the idea is simple — organ meats are a great source of Vitamin B and C, which are believed to calm your nerves, and thus, your teeth-grinding. If you’re not down to eat organ meat, you can go the vegan route and up your intake of cabbage and potatoes.
Level of Protection: Unknown, but with a risk of raised cholesterol
There’s limited evidence that Botox injections have helped some folks calm their jaws and quell their nightly grinding. What few studies have been conducted have suggested that Botox “effectively and safely improved sleep bruxism.” So you could get a few injections that smooth your wrinkles and calm your teeth-grinding. Of course, the science is debatable with such limited research; plus, Botox can get pretty expensive, and more worrisomely, lead to loss of bone density.
Level of Protection: Real Housewives of Teethgrind City
It sounds like a joke, but it’s actually not. “Emotional Freedom Tapping,” or EFT, refers to a technique that’s akin to acupuncture and acupressure. According to Healthline, EFT “focuses on the meridian points — or energy hot spots — to restore balance to your body’s energy.” A practitioner uses coordinated taps to realign the body’s energy. It’s based on Chinese medicine, but it comes from a Western perspective. Not to knock it, but it sounds like woo-woo science to me.
Level of Protection: Who knows? But let me know what you find, if you try it!
Sand Down Your Teeth
When I had a tooth fixed after I cracked it in half from grinding at night, I asked the dentist to sand down the repaired tooth and the one below it so they wouldn’t meet. Unfortunately, it shifted the tension to other teeth, which I soon cracked. Now my thought is — what if I have all my teeth sanded down so that none of them touch? It’s extreme, I know. But you have to understand, my girlfriend is dying, and I’m desperate.
Level of Protection: Do not try this at home, seek professional help