Have you been woken up with headaches or jaw pain? Or maybe you received news at your last dental appointment that you were at risk of needing costly and possibly painful procedures, due to a deterioration of your teeth? There’s a good chance that bruxism is the cause behind your concerns. And while most people suffer from it occasionally, for about 8-10% of the population, it becomes a potentially debilitating chronic health issue.
Bruxism is a medical condition characterized by teeth grinding and clenching of the jaw, especially when sleeping, although it is observed in some people during wakefulness. Although many people with bruxism can get away with grinding their teeth to a certain degree without suffering any negative effects, persistent grinding and clenching can cause dental damage, jaw pain and may even lead to chronic headaches. It’s not a stretch to say that bruxism can impact your overall quality of life.
Why Does Bruxism Happen?
It’s not exactly clear why some people are prone to grinding their teeth while sleeping. It doesn’t help that sufferers are often unaware of the problem, learning about it only when they’re sleeping with a partner or seek medical help for the associated symptoms.
There are actually two different categories of bruxism, primary which occurs without any known underlying causes, and secondary which is the symptom of another medical or psychological condition. Secondary bruxism is believed to be the most common form due to the fact that studies have found that it is rare for a person to present with bruxism without any of the known or suspected causative factors.
Doctors and psychologists theorize that bruxism has a strong connection with stress and anxiety. For example, it’s believed that if you have a habit of clenching your jaw or gritting your teeth when under stress, which is a form of bruxism itself, that this may carry over into your sleeping habits. Another theory is that teeth grinding works much like thumb sucking, providing an almost soothing effect.
While we still may not yet understand all the possible root causes of bruxism, the medical community in general has settled upon a consensus that it’s caused from a combination of stress, psychological, lifestyle and possibly even genetic factors.
Stress and Anxiety:
It is believed that the majority of cases of bruxism stem from stress and anxiety. In fact, according to some reports, anxiety and stress have been found to be connected to as many as 70% of cases of bruxism.
This ties in with stress and anxiety, but it’s an important enough factor that it deserves to be pointed out separately. Tension doesn’t magically disappear once you fall asleep, especially if you’re prone to tension headaches or a tight clenched jaw during the day.
Think about the last time you studied for an exam or were really focusing on something serious or intense. It’s not uncommon for this degree of focus to result in subconscious teeth grinding or jaw clenching. This is why you might see someone chewing on the end of a pencil or chomping vigorously on a piece of gum when they’re intensely focused. While this is type of bruxism that occurs while awake, the residual effects can easily carry over into sleep habits as well.
It is believed that certain medications can cause bruxism, especial those that cause changes in the central nervous system which can induce jaw clenching and teeth grinding. For example, antidepressants like Zoloft and Paxil as well as some antipsychotic medications.
Lifestyle factors that can cause stress or interfere with sleep patterns are also known causes of bruxism. For example, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, caffeine and drug use are thought to potentially cause bruxism or make it worse. Living a life that’s high stress or tension without taking adequate steps to decompress, recharge and refuel can lead to sleep disturbances and bruxism.
Bruxism appears to be found at a greater frequency in people who are already suffering from an existing sleep disorder, such as snoring, sleep apnea, sleep paralysis, semi-conscious sleep hallucinations and sleep walking, among others. It is thought that sleep conditions that induce a state of arousal are more likely to produce bruxism. For example, an episode of sleep apnea may end with jerking, snoring or tooth grinding.
Treatment for Bruxism
There is no known “cure” for bruxism. By that we mean that you’re not able to go to the doctor and be prescribed a remedy that will magically cause bruxism to disappear. There are however things that can be done to alleviate that root causes of bruxism and in some cases minimize the physical damages that the condition produces.
Many of the conventional treatments of bruxism center on lifestyle habits that reduce triggers. For example, taking steps to develop a more restful, regular pattern of sleep. This might include things like going to bed and waking a set times every day or participating in a relaxing routine before bed, as well developing a regular meditation or yoga practice to reduce stress and tension.
If you’re suffering from bruxism, it’s also important to try and identify and eliminate stimuli that might be contributing to the condition. For example, a cup of caffeinated coffee or an alcoholic drink after dinner in the evening. If you’re someone who frequently chews gum or hard, chewy foods you might want to try to eliminate those as well in an effort to train your jaw how to relax. Remember that what you do during the day follows you into your sleep.
With all of this in mind, what most experts can agree on is that bruxism is an unconscious habit. And it’s precisely for this reason that hypnotherapy has emerged as a viable form of therapy for bruxism.
Hypnosis for Bruxism
The Bruxism Association lists hypnosis under their clinically proven methods of treatment for bruxism. They mention one study that reviewed the long term effects of hypnosis for bruxism with positive results.
Other studies agree. In fact, a pilot study published in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis found that of the eight patients exposed to hypnotherapy sessions, all “showed a significant decrease in EMG activity; they also experienced less facial pain and their partners reported less bruxing noise immediately following treatment and after 4 to 36 months.”
Yet another study published by the U.S. Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health mentions a case study for the treatment of nocturnal bruxism with hypnotherapy. In this case study, the client was seen for a total of seven sessions where hypnotherapy was used in conjunction with the exploration of underlying psychological triggers. The one year follow up revealed that not only had the bruxism subsided, but that it also had not reappeared in the one year period. This case study also revealed what was called a positive life ripple effect in response to the hypnotherapy.
We present these studies to you for a couple of reasons. First, it’s common to be a somewhat skeptical of hypnosis at first. Many people have a few misconceptions about what hypnosis is and how it works. These studies help to satisfy the scientific curiosity of the skeptics.
Secondly, this evidence has been provided because your health is important, and you should think carefully and research any treatment options that you pursue. For people who suffer only occasionally with bruxism, this might not seem like such a big deal. However, for chronic sufferers, bruxism is in fact very serious and can quickly spiral into cascade of other health conditions if not treated. Considering the multifaceted nature of bruxism, the best approach is a holistic one, like what can be found with hypnotherapy treatment.
Before going into why hypnosis is so beneficial for bruxism it’s important to understand what hypnosis really is. If your bruxism is caused by stress, anxiety or tension, as is the case in so many instances, considering a treatment option that you know nothing about might only make matters worse.
First, hypnotherapy does not bring you to the point of being unconscious. This is a common fear and misconception that many people have. You are still awake, but very deeply relaxed. This state of relaxation allows you to tap into your subconscious mind and address the issues related to bruxism that reside there. Hypnosis involves no loss of personal control, nor will you be encouraged to do anything you don’t feel comfortable with.
Just imagine being so completely relaxed that you were able to separate yourself from your worries or anxieties. This is hypnosis.
We’ve discussed how stress and anxiety are the primary causes of bruxism but eliminating them and their effects isn’t always as easy as meditating for 10 minutes every morning. In many cases, stress and anxiety are deeply ingrained, lifestyle coping mechanisms. The solution to bruxism involves more than quitting your high stress job or getting more sleep. You might also need to go deep within yourself to treat and heal the reasons why your body and mind react with stress and anxiety in the first place.
To further explain the potential benefits of hypnosis, below are three factors that make hypnotherapy an ideal solution for relieving the symptoms of bruxism.
Hypnosis Targets the Unconscious
The human mind is complex, but we’re going to try and simplify it by dividing it up into two major components – the conscious and unconscious mind. We use our conscious minds constantly. Every act that we purposely perform, every word that we say, basically every thought or action that you’re aware of is the result of your conscious mind. But, have you ever stopped and wondered what makes your conscious mind think and act that way that it does?
Let me introduce you to your unconscious mind. Just like the conscious part of your mind, you’re accessing your unconscious mind every single day, the difference is that you’re not realizing it. The unconscious mind can be defined as everything that’s not part of your conscious awareness. Much like the concept of infinity, the concept of the unconscious mind can be a difficult one to grasp.
This is because we like tangibility. We like proof, and this is something that’s difficult to obtain from the unconscious mind in our normal state. But, let’s take the mystery out of it for a second and look at some day to day applications of the unconscious mind in your life. Take for example a learned task, like driving.
When you first learned to drive, every action was purposeful. You had to actually think to turn on the turn signal and feel out how far to turn the wheel when making the turn. Fast forward a couple decades from the first time you were behind the wheel and it’s likely to be an entirely different experience.
You probably perform many of the functions required to safely drive a vehicle without thinking about it, in fact you might be cruising along and suddenly realize you don’t even remember the last 5 or 10 minutes. The various small tasks of driving have become automatic to the point that you can do them without even really being aware that you are. Driving itself is conscious act, but at some points, your unconscious mind also comes into play.
More commonly, we associate the unconscious minds to more natural automatic behaviors. Teeth grinding is a perfect example of this type of an unconscious automatic behavior, similar to blushing and sweating when you’re nervous. It happens unconsciously, which means it happens all by itself. But it’s not something that can’t be controlled either.
It’s near impossible to consciously will yourself to change an unconscious behavior. Have you ever been able to stop yourself from blushing at the wrong moment? Probably not. Likewise, you aren’t able to will yourself to stop grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw. Considering that bruxism is defined by unconscious behaviors that most frequently occur while you’re asleep and not in control of your actions, treatment for bruxism should be approached through the unconscious mind.
Considering that the unconscious mind is very much like a stubborn know- it-all that is completely uninterested in thought or reason, it’s necessary to bypass the conscious cognitive command centers and communicate with it directly. This can only be done in a deeply relaxed state where conscious thought is unable to interfere. Hypnosis can be used to approach unconscious automatic behaviors at the unconscious level, the part of the mind where stress and other bruxism related behaviors often plant themselves.
2. Hypnosis Tackles the Root Cause of Bruxism
In a hypnotherapy session, the hypnotherapist enters your subconscious mind by putting you in a state of deep relaxation. This makes your mind highly receptive to the power of suggestion—a strategy used in meditation therapy and sports visualization.
A hypnotherapist can teach you relaxation techniques to help you manage your stress more calmly and develop a positive mindset. In effect, this approach treats the real cause of bruxism, and not just its symptoms.
This means that it’s important to first understand the root cause of bruxism so that it can be treated. For example, you might contribute bruxism as being a side effect of your medication. This type of physiological response might be difficult to overcome through hypnotherapy since there are other outside stimulating factors at play. What can be achieved through hypnotherapy in this case is working towards healing the reasons you need the medication in the first place.
If you’re on anxiety medication that might be contributing to bruxism, hypnotherapy can address the behaviors of the unconscious mind that have made anxiety such an influential element in your life.
Sometimes, it is the case where an individual has no idea what’s behind their bruxism. Maybe there’s no medication being taken or extraordinary stress that they’re aware of. Just because a person isn’t aware of it doesn’t mean that something’s not going on at an unconscious level that’s contributing to bruxism behaviors.
Hypnosis can help you discover the unconscious root cause or painful bruxism and address it at its source.
3. Hypnotherapy Helps You Live a Healthy Lifestyle
Several lifestyle factors also contribute to the frequency of bruxing. Aside from stress, it’s theorized that factors like smoking and alcohol consumption can also contribute to bruxism. Hypnotherapy uses the power of suggestion and positive thinking to help you change your bad habits and build healthy ones instead. For example, a hypnotherapist can condition your mind to help you overcome unhealthy food cravings and even addiction to nicotine.
But, let’s take a step back and define what we’re really talking about here, and that’s coping mechanisms. Many of the not so healthy lifestyle choices that we make are in essence coping mechanisms for an underlying issue that often resides in the unconscious mind.
This doesn’t mean that someone needs extensive hypnotherapy treatment if their job is causing them stress, but if their reaction to that stress is to have drinks with coworkers several nights a week or binge eat on unhealthy snacks right before bed to the point that it’s difficult to fall asleep, then there’s probably some work that can be done through hypnotherapy to address why they’re using those mechanisms to cope with workday stress.
As mentioned earlier, bruxism almost always occurs as symptom of something else, and often it’s a psychological factor rather than a physical condition. The daily lifestyle choices that we make are both influenced by the unconscious mind and help to further form and ingrain unconscious behaviors. Hypnotherapy can help change negative lifestyle habits and transform them into positive coping mechanisms that reduce or completely eliminate the occurrence of bruxism in your life.
Is Hypnotherapy the Only Answer for Bruxism?
While hypnosis can be a good form of therapy to relieve bruxism symptoms, patients should still seek the medical advice of their healthcare provider before seeking any form of treatment, including hypnotherapy.
Whether or not your healthcare provider agrees with hypnotherapy as a viable treatment option isn’t necessarily the point. Hypnotherapy has been proven to be effective for treating many medical conditions, and more doctors have begun including it in their range of care. This includes those in the dental profession who have witnesses first hand the damaging effects of bruxism.
That said, not every health care provider will be on board, and that’s ok. Hypnotherapy, when guided by a qualified professional either through an office visit or audio recording, is considered a safe and gentle form of therapy. Still, you should at least speak with your provider about your thoughts regarding hypnotherapy and have a discussion about the benefits that you hope to receive.
Additionally, a good health care provider will want to do an overall assessment to make sure there aren’t any underlying health issues that could be causing your bruxism. For example, while anxiety and tension might be causing your bruxism, those symptoms could be signs of something more serious like hypertension or heart disease. Everything in your body is interconnected, and the best approach to bruxism is one that treats the body along with the conscious and unconscious mind.
It’s Time to Stop Suffering from Bruxism
If you’ve been thinking that your nightly teeth grinding is just a bad habit that isn’t worth seeking treatment for, you’re wrong. Even occasional bouts of bruxism can have damaging effects. Bruxism can lead to debilitating jaw pain, chronic headaches, loss of teeth and can have devastating financial consequences.
While a dentist or other medical care provider can treat the physical effects of bruxism, they’re limited in what they can do to treat the real root cause. We’re not talking about masking the root cause when medications or preventing further damage with dental implements. We’re talking about addressing the reasons that bruxism is an issue in your life in the first place.