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When they do it in movies and television, it means anger, or fear, or someone taking something very seriously. When you do it, it means lots of pain and a potentially very expensive dental bill.

Bruxism, the mashing of the teeth and excessive clenching of the jaw, can cause everything from migraines, to a distorted facial structure, to worn, stump-like and even cracked teeth.

In many cases, teeth-grinding can be a relatively harmless habit. In others, it can destroy teeth and dental work and wreck the entire jawline. Many patients, moreover, are not even aware of their behavior, as sleep bruxism is a common form of the disorder.

Statistics can be hard to come by, and a wide range of results has been published. Benchmark Dental Lab claims that as many half of all Americans are bruxers. Health Day, meanwhile, turns in more conservative estimates, claiming that 40 million Americans brux, with 4 million suffering from related tooth damage.

In children, bruxing is a common habit, and one likely to be grown out of. But for those who carry the habit with them into adulthood, or pick it up later in life, it can often be difficult to detect. Most people who brux aren’t aware they’re doing it, and many people grind their teeth in their sleep without knowing it. What they do notice are the effects.

Because of the way your mouth is muscled, high jaw tension can lead to intense head and toothaches. As regular grinders wear down the enamel protecting their teeth, they begin to feel sensitivity to temperature and certain foods, especially sweets. (Enamel is the strongest substance in the body, but Frequent jaw soreness and tooth pain, meanwhile, are more obvious symptoms.

Many people don’t learn about their bruxism until someone here’s the crunch noises while they’re sleeping. And by the time your dentist catches, you are talking root canals, and major fillings, and possibly even dentures.

The most common treatment is some form of mouthguard. These are widely prescribed, and are highly effective in preventing habitual bruxers from doing serious damage to their mouths. But many cases of bruxism can be solved by other, less expensive means.

For adults who present with the habit, stress is the most widely identified contributing factor. The masseter muscle, which connects from your cheekbone down to the bottom of your jaw, is the strongest in the human body. Like other muscles involved in chewing, it also accumulates a great deal of tension. Luckily, jaw muscles are easy to access with massage.

Applying pressure directly under the cheekbone will help relieve the majority of jaw pain. Rub your fingers there, and open and close your mouth slowly while you do. Other tips include laying off caffeine late at night and meditating before bedtime. Additionally, while chewing gum is good for your teeth, chewing constantly gets the mouth accustomed to a clenched position, and can lead to subconscious teeth grinding.