So what can we do?
You’d be surprised how many people are unaware that they’re clenching and grinding. Even patients who come into the office complaining of pain and sensitivity are often incredulous when I point it out. “Oh, no. I don’t grind my teeth,” is a refrain I hear over and over again, despite the fact that I’m often watching them do it.
Awareness is key. Are your teeth currently touching? Even as you read this article? If so, that’s a sure sign that you’re doing some damage — your teeth shouldn’t actually touch throughout the day at all unless you’re actively eating and chewing your food. Instead, your jaw should be relaxed, with a bit of space between the teeth when the lips are closed. Be mindful, and try to stop yourself from grinding when you catch yourself doing it.
If you have a night guard or retainer, devices that keep the teeth in proper alignment and prevent grinding, try popping them in during the day. These appliances provide a physical barrier, absorbing and dispersing pressure. As I often tell my patients, I’d much rather you crack a night guard than crack a tooth. Your dentist can custom make a night guard to assure proper fit.
And since many of us will be continuing to work from home for months, it is imperative to set up a proper work station. Ideally, when seated, your shoulders should be over your hips, and your ears should be over your shoulders. Computer screens should be at eye level; prop up your monitor or laptop on a box or a stack of books if you don’t have an adjustable chair or desk.
Consider, too, that in our new home offices, it’s not uncommon to roll out of bed, find a couch, then sit for nine hours a day. Try to mix it up with some standing, whenever possible, and incorporate more movement. Use each and every bathroom break, or phone call, as an opportunity to take more steps, no matter how small your home or apartment might be.
At the end of the workday, I advise my patients to — excuse the very technical, medical term here — “wiggle like a fish.” 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 goal is to decompress and elongate the spine, as well as release and relieve some of that tension and pressure.
If you’ve got a bathtub, consider taking a 20-minute Epsom salt soak in the evening. Focus on breathing through your nose and relaxing, rather than thinking about work, scrolling through emails, or contemplating your kids’ back-to-school schedule (easier said than done, I know).