Ideally, waking up should either be a positive or a neutral experience. That isn’t always the case, of course, but waking only to realize your jaw is sore or tight from clenching or grinding your teeth is usually a less than desirable way to start the day.
That’s especially true if the soreness is related to dental issues like bruxism—i.e., the technical term for teeth grinding—and the problem is especially vexing when it happens while sleeping.
It might seem like you’re helpless when it comes to controlling this, but there are steps you can take to relax your jaw while sleeping, so let’s take a quick step-by-step look at how to relax your jaw when sleeping.
Can working on the problem during the day solve something that happens at night? The answer to that question is definitely “yes,” but you do need to commit to a routine and do the recommended exercises and procedures on a near-daily basis.
Start by noticing any day grinding or clenching you may do while you’re wide awake, and pay attendant to any jaw and postural body positions that contribute to your tendency to do that.
Place Tip of Your Tongue Between Your Teeth
To stop this, try positioning the tip of your tongue between your teeth. It’s a simple tip, but sometimes just the awareness of what you’re doing will help you relax.
You can also take this tip to the next level by placing your tongue on the roof of your mouth right behind your front teeth, then slowly opening and closing your jaw. You’ll start to feel how the relaxation process works, and that may lead you to other small things you an do that may help.
Believe it or not, smiling can be part of the process, too (yay!). The smiling exercise starts with the widest smile you can manage—hold the smile, then open your mouth a couple of inches while inhaling.
Release the smile while exhaling, then do that rinse/lather/repeat thing and try it a couple more times until your jaw feels more relaxed.
Another helpful exercise starts with opening and closing your mouth several times with your fingers placed on your lower front teeth.
Pull down on your lower jaw until you feel the beginning of discomfort, then hold this position for 30 seconds or so. Ideally, you’ll notice that the discomfort will begin to diminish or dissipate, which should tell you that you’re on to something.
Warm Compress and/or Hot and Cold Therapy
Finally, you can try placing a warm washcloth in various positions on and around your jaw muscles to help you relax before you turn in. Hot and cold therapy can be a very effective way to deal with clenching and grinding, so this one’s definitely worth a try, too.
The Next Step
For some people, there are limitations to the effectiveness of home exercises, and if this happens the next step is to consider working with a physical therapist.
The benefit of doing this is that PTs are trained to spot specific areas or muscles where you’re tensing up more than others, and they can introduce specific exercises to balance things out.
Another good reason to work with a physical therapist is that it can be a very targeted way to use relaxation and stress reduction tactics. Many people do these casually on their own, but PTs who have dealt with this problem before can often help with the specifics of your situation.
The Dental Step
If the clenching or grinding is severe enough, it’s important to see your dentist about it early on. Dentists can usually give you a more complete breakdown of why the problem is happening by using bite analysis, and they may recommend more aggressive tactics like using muscle relaxers or botox injections.
The real value of their expertise comes if they recommend a night guard, for night guards can be especially helpful with these kinds of issues. They help to protect your teeth and reposition your jaw as you sleep, and sometimes that alone is enough to reduce or even eliminate clenching and grinding.
There are a couple of issues that come with a night guard recommendations—specifically, quality and pricing.
Quality-wise, it’s important to get something durable that will do the job, so avoid the tendency to pick up a night guard from your local drugstore.
If your dentist does recommend a mouth guard, the best choice is to get one from a company like Sentinel Mouthguards.
Our night guards are made from a dental impression of your teeth (we supply everything to you) and will save you hundreds of dollars when compared to the dental office price.
If you have any questions, visit our help center to get the answers you need to help solve this problem.