Hi. I’m Carolyn. I’m the Editor in Chief of SELF and the host of our brand new wellness advice podcast, Checking In. In our first episode, out today, we’re talking all about the —like teeth grinding—and how to deal.
In today’s 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 above, 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.
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.
As for what to do about it, Bonior shares practical techniques for how to reduce or manage your anxiety—like doing a body scan, noticing your feelings, and mindful breathing. I found her advice soothing and helpful, and I hope you do too, whether you deal with bruxism or other physical symptoms of stress.
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 allllll 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!
If you’re interested in learning more about any of these topics—the mind-body connection, teeth grinding, and managing anxiety—here are some articles from SELF you might enjoy:
11 Physical Symptoms of Anxiety, Because It’s Not All Mental
9 Tips for Anyone Feeling Emotionally Pummeled By 2020
17 Easy-to-Follow Guided Breathing Videos For When You Need a Minute
6 Therapist-Approved Tips for Living With All This Uncertainty
On Jaw and Tooth Pain:
5 Surprising Reasons Your Jaw Is Achy and Sore
3 Ice Rollers That Also Make the Best TMJ Massagers