It’s not just running that can harm your teeth: many types of fitness activities can put your teeth at risk. But perhaps one of the most damaging activities is weightlifting.

In addition to the damage that can be caused by dehydration or by consuming high-sugar energy foods and acidic sports drinks, lifters put their teeth at risk because they often clench their jaw.

Weightlifters can either resign themselves to reconstructive dentistry or they can see a neuromuscular dentist about preventing this type of damage.

A man preparing to life a large weight bar

Why Lifters Clench

If you are a lifter, you’ve probably noticed that you clench your teeth when you’re lifting. It seems like it’s just part of the motion, right?

Not quite. It’s true that people naturally close their jaw when exerting themselves, especially during an activity like lifting, which depends on maximizing core strength. With the jaw closed, your head creates a more solid unit, and this helps stabilize muscles in the head and neck. It should also help hold the spine stable and straight.

But this only explains the basic step of closing your teeth: it doesn’t explain the clenching. Clenching your teeth hard enough to damage them is not normal during exertion. It comes from one of three basic causes:

  • Bad form
  • Imbalanced bite
  • Trying to lift too much

All three of these causes can be addressed to protect your teeth.

Make Sure You Have the Right Form

You know that if you’re not standing properly, you won’t be lifting efficiently. Inefficient lifting forces you to utilize muscles that you shouldn’t need to rely on for this lift. Or to utilize the muscles at a higher exertion than you should.

Bad form reduces your maximum lift, reduces your number of reps, and can put you at risk for injuries–not just in the mouth, either.

If you find yourself clenching your teeth too much, talk to a coach or a more experienced lifter about your form and find out if there’s a way you can improve it. Your body will thank you.

Is Your Bite the Problem?

If you have a healthy, balanced bite, your jaw muscles can efficiently hold your jaw closed for stability. The force will be distributed fairly evenly through your mouth, according to the balance of the muscles, which roughly corresponds to the strength of teeth to take the stress. You’ll feel your jaws close, and the pressure will be firm, but you won’t be straining your teeth.

If you’ve checked your form, but you’re still clenching your teeth, it’s time to consider that your bite might be the problem. Talk to a neuromuscular dentist. Neuromuscular dentistry looks at how your bite fits in with the larger system of muscles. A scientific analysis will reveal if your bite is imbalanced and may be forcing you to clench your teeth when you lift. Bringing your bite into balance using an approach like a mouthguard, will help you stabilize your bite and lift more without damaging your teeth.

Maybe You’re Lifting Too Much

Yeah, we know: there’s no such thing as too much. If you can lift it, it’s the right amount to lift.

But that’s not quite true. You know that if you’re lifting so much you get injured, then it’s too much.

And the same is true if your lifting is hurting your teeth. That’s an injury you don’t want and don’t need. Reevaluate what you’re lifting. Adjust the weight or the reps a little until you find the point where you don’t have to clench to lift. Then train more to keep working up to the weight you want to achieve.

It’s Not Just Your Teeth at Risk

Although it might be the tooth damage you notice first, it’s not just your teeth that are being put at risk when you clench while lifting. It’s your entire jaw system. Force on the teeth is also force on the temporomandibular joints, where your jaw meets your skull. The constant stress of lifting can not only damage your teeth, it can damage your jaw joints, which can degenerate or displace the cushioning discs, which can lead to long-term jaw dysfunction.

It’s important that if you get a mouthguard you make sure the mouthguard isn’t shifting stress away from your teeth and onto your joint. A neuromuscular dentist will be able to make sure the forces in your mouth are balanced and not damaging.

If you are a lifter experiencing problems with clenching or tooth damage in Fairfax County, please call 703-349-4277 today for an appointment with neuromuscular dentist Dr. Pamela Marzban in Burke, VA.