Other factors that may increase bruxism are poor sleep hygiene and bad posture. If you are a light or poor sleeper, you spend more time in non-REM sleep, which is when people naturally brux. This might be caused by stress, but also consuming caffeine or sleeping with your phone.
And we tend to take our postural habits to bed with us. If you’re tight and clenched when you are awake, you’re likely also tight and clenched when you are asleep, or at least it takes you longer to unwind. This is especially true now as people spend so much time hunched over their devices with head, neck and back forming a taut and orthopedically ill-advised “C.”
So the question is not so much whether you brux, but why you might be bruxing more than is normal and possibly causing jaw or dental problems. “Bruxism is not a disease,” said Gilles Lavigne, a neuroscientist, dentist and professor at the University of Montreal. “It’s just a behavior, and like any behavior, when it reaches a level that it’s bothersome you may need to consult someone.”
Perhaps a physical therapist who can teach you how to relax your jaw and do abdominal breathing. And maybe a psychologist can help you modify behaviors that lead to an increase in bruxism, like eating too much before bed and drinking more than your share of wine and whiskey.
But simple awareness of the position of your mouth, tongue and teeth throughout the day may go a long way toward preventing tooth-grinding. “Nobody knows where their tongue is when they are at rest,” said Cheryl Cocca, a physical therapist at Good Shepherd Penn Partners in Lansdale, Pa., who treats patients with bruxism. She recommends continually checking to make sure you are breathing through your nose with your mouth closed, your tongue resting on the roof of your mouth, and your teeth apart. Set a timer if you need to remind yourself or do it every time you stop at a red light or get a text alert.
Part of the problem could be our modern diet. A growing body of evidence supports the once-fringe notion that, following the agricultural and industrial revolutions, as humans began eating foods that are more processed and easier to chew, we came to have smaller jaws than our ancestors and underdeveloped orofacial muscles. A result, researchers say, is that we tend to breathe through our mouths, with our tongues resting on the bottom of our mouths.
“Watch people on the subway, watch people on the bus, they’re all on their phones, their mouths are slightly open breathing in and out. Particularly kids, they all are,” said Dr. Tammy Chen, a prosthodontist in New York City who has written about the increase in tooth fractures. “As soon as the mouth is open, the tongue is down. The tongue should always be on top of the mouth pushing up and out,” which strengthens face and neck muscles, widens the jaw and opens the airway.