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Why Do I Grind My Teeth So Much—And How Can I Make It Stop?!

Grinding your teeth unintentionally (something called bruxism), can result from anxiety. Savvy Psychologist is sharing a special episode of Checking In, a new podcast from SELF magazine, featuring insight and advice about teeth grinding from clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior, Ph.D.

By
SELF magazine
3-minute read

Today Savvy Psychologist is excited to share a special episode of Checking In, a new wellness advice podcast from SELF magazine. Checking In tackles our most personal health and wellness questions, no matter how complicated or embarrassing. In this episode, you'll hear how anxiety can manifest in our teeth and jaw, and you’ll learn practical tips for relieving the physical symptoms of stress. Enjoy!

In this episode, a woman named Sarah calls in to tell us that she’s been grinding her teeth a lot lately, thanks to her anxiety.

“I started to notice an increasing amount of jaw pain,” she says. “I could feel my jaw spasming during the day.” She says that the more she does it, the more worried she gets about it, which then creates a nasty cycle where her anxiety triggers her teeth grinding and vice versa. Sarah wants to know why this is happening, and how to make it stop.

This is all very relatable to me, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that.

New episodes of Checking In come out every Monday. Listen to this week’s episode here, and get more episodes of Checking In on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Teeth grinding, or bruxism, is when you clench your jaw and grind and rub your teeth together, generally unintentionally. There are a number of different causes of teeth grinding, and mental health conditions like anxiety can absolutely be a factor. So to get some insight into that mind-body connection, I first talk to licensed clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., the author of the book Detox Your Thoughts.

“There’s really no disconnecting the physical response of stress from the mental one,” Bonior says. She and I discuss the fight-or-flight response, and why anxiety can indeed manifest physically in many different ways—like teeth grinding, of course, but also gastrointestinal distress, headaches, shortness of breath, insomnia, and so on.

We’re in a situation where ... we have to overthink whether or not everyday, simple decisions are going to harm us. We used to take for granted the fact that we could go get groceries. Or we could get the mail, or we could talk to a neighbor. We now have to think about that on such a level that it’s exhausting.

Andrea Bonior, Ph.D.

Something else we talk about: That this year has been particularly rough on our collective mental health, and for good (and obvious) reason. “We’ve really never seen anything quite this chronically threatening in modern American history,” she says. “We’re in a situation where for six or seven months we have to overthink whether or not everyday, simple decisions are going to harm us. We used to take for granted the fact that we could go get groceries. Or we could get the mail, or we could talk to a neighbor. We now have to think about that on such a level that it’s exhausting.” Living with that kind of chronic stress can take a toll on you, physically.

That said, if you are specifically dealing with teeth grinding, like Sarah, it’s also important to go see a dentist because it can be seriously bad for your teeth! So in the second part of the episode, I talk to Antonia Teruel, D.M.D., M.S., Ph.D., a dentist who specializes in TMJ issues. Your temporomandibular joints (or TMJ) are the joints in your jaw that you use when you talk, chew, and swallow. Clenching and grinding your teeth can cause both tooth issues and TMJ issues, and Dr. Teruel knows all about it. When I ask her why she got into her line of work, she tells me: “Pain. I like helping people in pain.”

If that’s you, Dr. Teruel shares some very practical advice for taking care of your teeth and jaw if you deal with bruxism, and also explains what you can expect if you go to the dentist for help with this issue. All very good to know!

Ready to listen? Check out the episode over here, and don't forget to subscribe to Checking In wherever you listen to podcasts.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.