My favorite part of yoga — aside from corpse pose, obviously — is when the yogi (in my case, usually Adriene) tells me to unclench my jaw. It’s not something I notice, but I am almost always clenching, so the reminder nearly always applies. I’ve worn holes in my plastic retainers, and numerous doctors have told me my clenching is likely a contributing factor to my fairly frequent headaches. It should perhaps not be surprising, then, that clenching can also apparently crack our teeth (!), according to Tammy Chen, owner of Central Park Dental Aesthetics in midtown Manhattan.
Chen says she and a number of dentist peers have seen an uptick in patients with cracked teeth over the past few months, which she attributes to stress-induced clenching. Also on the rise are patients reporting jaw pain, tooth sensitivity, achiness in the cheeks, and migraines — all of which can be symptoms of clenching, too.
In addition to stress, poor posture and lack of sleep can both exacerbate tooth-grinding and jaw-clenching problems. Working from one’s couch (or bed …) or bent over whatever too low table is available makes us hunch our shoulders, says Chen, and because the nerves in our shoulder and neck muscles connect to the jawbone, all that tension goes right to our mouths. Irregular, low-quality sleep makes us grind, too. Most of us don’t notice when we’re clenching, so many of us are doing it a lot more than we realize. It might sound impossible, but Chen says our teeth really shouldn’t be touching at all unless we are eating and chewing our food.
Fortunately, Chen has some suggestions for us: Sit up straight to work (ugh), take breaks to stand up and move around, take a relaxing bath, do some deep-breathing exercises, and, my personal favorite, lie down on the floor and wiggle around like a fish. Yes.
At the end of the day, Chen advises, “lie down on the floor on your back, with your arms extended straight above your head, and gently wiggle your arms, shoulders, hips, and feet from side to side.” The idea here is to decompress the spine, and release some of the tension you’ve built up during the day. I love this advice, and I look forward to wiggling 1 to 25 times a day.