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How to Relieve Tooth Pain from Grinding: Effective Tips and Remedies

7 min read
by Dylan Hao |

When a toothache is constant, it’s important to get to the “root” of the cause and figure out what’s going on in your mouth. If you’re sure it’s not a cavity or another urgent dental issue, you might be grinding your teeth.

This condition, called bruxism, is characterized by ongoing teeth grinding and jaw clenching, usually when sleeping. With the pressure of your jaw pushing your teeth together and your upper and lower enamel grinding for hours, it’s unsurprising that one of the primary symptoms is tooth pain!

If you think your toothache is bruxism-related, you have plenty of options to take care of the pain. In this blog, we’ll explain how bruxism causes toothache and how to relieve the pain and prevent further damage.

Tooth Grinding Explained

Far more common than one might think, bruxism can happen to anyone. We don’t do it on purpose — it’s a response by our bodies when we’re not paying attention, and it’s frequently related to stress.

When your body is under internal or external pressure, your brain produces stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.  If you can’t find other ways to eliminate chemicals from your system before you go to sleep, it may show up as grinding your teeth back and forth over each other. It can happen when you’re awake and feeling anxious, too.

For that reason, bruxism is more prevalent in children than adults. Learning how to manage stressful thoughts and situations takes time, and kids don’t always have those stress management tools.

Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment of Bruxism

Awake bruxism is usually easier to handle and less destructive than sleep bruxism because once the clenching and grinding cause discomfort, you notice it and stop.

But sleep bruxism goes mostly unnoticed, making it harder to control.

It’s possible to clench and grind your teeth in your sleep and never realize you’re doing it until the effects impact how you feel when you’re awake. How severe your bruxism becomes depends on things like:

  • How much stress you have
  • How long you brux
  • Whether you have existing oral health issues like tooth damage or missing teeth
  • Your diet and sleep patterns
  • Your stress management techniques
  • The alignment of your teeth
  • Whether you take steps to treat the problem

Bruxism Symptoms

The damage varies for all of us, but in general, grinding puts pressure on your jaw muscles and everything connected to them. This includes the delicate tissue known as your TMJ (temporomandibular joint). 

In addition to jaw pain from the TMJ and jaw muscle damage, symptoms of bruxism also include:

  • Earaches
  • Headaches
  • Sore muscles, particularly in the neck and shoulder area
  • Teeth sensitivity, usually to hot or cold temperatures and sweets
  • Restless sleep habits
  • Anxiety, stress, and/or depression

When you have untreated bruxism, you are dealing with chronic stress. Whether that stress is directly causing your bruxing or is an indirect effect doesn’t matter.

This ongoing activation of your body’s stress response may cause more severe problems to your physical and mental health, such as heart issues, diabetes, depression, and high blood pressure.

If you think you may have the signs and symptoms of bruxing, it’s vital to start taking steps to reduce the consequences now.

Diagnosing Bruxism

There are various ways bruxism is diagnosed. An ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor could establish the diagnosis when you present to them with regular ear infections or pain in the area.

Your general physician may put two and two together when you complain about anxiety, not sleeping well, and headaches when you wake up.

More commonly, though, the dentist is the person who diagnoses your bruxism. They often connect symptoms like jaw pain, teeth sensitivity, and headaches with flattened teeth or swollen muscles. An x-ray is often ordered to make the diagnosis official.

In cases where the TMJ is causing the pain, it could be from bruxism or something more severe. The TMJ is responsible for every movement your jaw makes; when it becomes inflamed or displaced, it can be excruciating and lead to joint dysfunction. It may go away with early treatment or lead to a TMD (temporomandibular disorder) requiring long-term care from a specialist.

You don’t always have to visit the dentist to know if your tooth pain is due to grinding or something else. Next, we’ll explain some of the usual culprits of tooth pain to help you figure out what you should do to treat the symptoms.

How to Know if Your Toothache is From Grinding

There are various reasons your teeth could be hurting, some of which have nothing to do with your teeth! You must figure out what’s causing the pain to address the correct problem. 

Sinus Cavities and Toothaches

Sinus cavities and toothaches

For instance, a sinus infection can lead to this type of discomfort because the largest sinuses are located above the upper jaw’s back teeth. 

Most people don’t know this, so they don’t always connect upper teeth discomfort with sinus issues. However, the roots of those teeth are close to the sinus cavity, and, in some people, they extend into that area.

If the sinus becomes inflamed, the teeth closest to it will hurt. Treating the sinus inflammation makes the toothache stop.

On the flip side, if you have an infection in one or more of those sinus-connected teeth, one of the effects could be chronic sinusitis. You’d need to treat the tooth infection, not the sinus problem.

Other Causes of Tooth Pain

Other things that cause tooth pain that must be addressed through general dentistry include:

  • Cavities
  • Serious tooth decay that may require a root canal or crown
  • Chips or cracks in the teeth

Proper dental treatment for a tooth-related issue can keep it from getting worse and needing a more intensive (read: painful and expensive) type of care. Those simple fillings can prevent the need for a root canal later.

Another trigger of sensitive teeth is a whitening product. If you’ve been using whitening toothpaste or strips, they may be causing your pain. Stick with a high-quality professional teeth whitening product or take a break from whitening altogether and see if it helps the discomfort dissipate.

Check out JS Dental Lab for the ultimate at-home teeth whitening tray.

Tips for Relieving Grinding-Related Toothaches

No matter the reason behind your toothaches, you likely have one main goal: to stop the pain!

If none of the above issues are causing your pain, it’s likely bruxism-related, or you have a TMJ disorder. Talk to your doctor to discuss your symptoms.

They may recommend a night guard, but there’s a different kind of mouth guard used for temporomandibular joint disorders versus bruxism conditions.

But the thing about grinding tooth pain is that it happens because you’ve overused your jaw muscles and worn down the enamel that protects your sensitive inner tooth structure. By focusing on avoiding extra pressure and use on those two areas, you can give your mouth time to rest and stop aggravating the problem.

When you’re ready to make a few minor changes and feel major results, try these simple action steps:

  • Use ice packs or moist heat pads and apply them to your sore jaw muscles for 10-15 minutes at a time. As long as there is no infection under the surface, either can help reduce pain.
  • Skip the hard, chewy, or dense foods that cause your jaw muscles and teeth to work overtime. This includes steak, nuts, many candies, and hard fruits and veggies.
  • Just say no to chewing gum and taffy.
  • Stay hydrated. (This keeps your bodily systems running on point and flushes toxins).
  • Get restful sleep so your brain can fix the day’s damage each night.
  • Use massage techniques to relieve muscle pain in your shoulders, neck, and jaw.
  • Take OTC muscle relaxants like ibuprofen.

These actions will help eliminate the pain so you can get through your day. To prevent it from returning, you’ll need to adjust your habits and make some long-term changes.

How to Stop the Damage From Causing More Pain

Regardless of who you’re following for your bruxism treatment, the end goal is to reduce the pain and damage caused by teeth clenching and grinding. 

One essential technique is to look for ways to reduce stress in your life and add self-care relaxation techniques into your day.

Not only does this make everything function more smoothly, it reduces your blood pressure, lowers your risk of health conditions like diabetes and heart problems, and improves the symptoms of bruxism.

Night Guards and Bruxism Damage Reduction

close-up of a person putting in their night guard

Chances are good that your dental professional will recommend a night guard when your bruxism diagnosis is official. Whether you have very early signs of this condition or it’s been going on for a while, a night guard is an effective technique used to stop the upper and lower teeth from gaining traction. 

Without it, the jaw can’t grind them together.

The key is to ensure you’re using a custom-fit night guard, not an over-the-counter or boil-and-bite version, as those may have side effects that make your symptoms worse. 

Consistently wearing a night guard designed for you gives your jaw muscles a much-needed break. This lets them calm down enough to reduce inflammation, which can almost instantly soothe your sore neck, shoulders, and facial muscles. You’ll probably feel more rested as your body will be relaxed instead of staying active when you sleep. 

Depending on the diagnosis and who submits the request, your insurance may cover a particular night guard, like a TMJ splint. If not, a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account could reimburse you for your night guard. 

With regular dental care — including cleanings and exams — and the use of a custom-made night guard, you should see a sizable reduction in your bruxism symptoms.

Learn more about insurance and night guards.

Sleep Disorders and Night Guards

A word of caution, though. If you have a sleep disorder like obstructive sleep apnea or any medical conditions, talk to your doctor before trying night guard therapy on your own. 

Adding this or other home remedies to your existing treatment plan can have unintended consequences. For example, if the guard doesn’t fit right, it can worsen your sleep apnea symptoms by obstructing the airway. 

Your healthcare physician may have specific recommendations for oral appliance therapy, depending on your specific health conditions.

Conclusion

The causes of bruxism may vary, but the treatment for tooth pain from grinding is pretty standard. Avoid any activities that irritate or trigger discomfort and make the jaw muscles work too hard, and wear a night guard from JS Dental to give those muscles some much-needed rest.

Shop our full line of night guards!

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