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3 Ways to Outsmart Stress and Tension Headaches

Dentists have pinpointed the cause of recent mystery headaches: an uptick in jaw clenching and nighttime tooth grinding triggered by stress. Here, a few simple tweaks that will help protect your teeth and soothe your aching head.

During the Day: Teeth Apart

Are your teeth touching right now? If so, it’s a sign your jaw is tight enough to trigger nighttime grinding. Turns out, the more you clench during the day, the stronger your jaw muscles become, setting off a vicious circle of grinding. The simple fix: Aside from when you’re eating or talking, keep your lips together and your teeth apart, letting your tongue rest lightly behind the upper front teeth. “The idea here is to make sure your tongue isn’t putting any pressure on the teeth,” says periodontist Lauren B. Shack of Palms West Periodontal in Florida. The position helps relax tense jaw muscles.

Before Bed: Rub Your Jaw

Circle a knuckle along your jawline from your cheekbone to your chin. Doing this for one minute before bed reduces the likelihood you’ll grind at night. “Massage triggers a relaxation response that alleviates muscle tension in the jaw and increases pain-relieving endorphins,” explains Dr. Shack. Tip: Boost the effects with a warm washcloth. Swedish research finds heat boosts blood flow, allowing massage to penetrate deeper and flush out pain-triggering inflammation.

While You Sleep: Chew on This

Nighttime grinding puts 500 pounds of pressure per square inch on the fragile enamel of your teeth-more than 17 times the force of chewing! One of your best lines of defense: Cushion the blow with a nighttime mouth guard. And instead of paying $800 for a dentist-issued guard, pop in a customizable one, like Paraiba White Dentance Professional Dental Guards (Buy on Amazon, $17.99).

This article originally appeared in our print magazine.

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