Your body is lean and your pecs are pumped, but your dentist is concerned about the state of your teeth. While peak fitness is certainly a goal worth striving for, many weightlifters are finding it comes at a cost.
An 18-time world powerlifting champion, Robert Herbst, says years of intense training have taken a toll on his teeth.
“I clench my teeth tightly when I lift heavy weights, because this activates the strong muscles of my jaw and neck.”
He recalls a painful time in his career when the pressure became too much for his teeth.
“My lower right molar exploded under the enormous pressure I was applying to my jaw during a world championship final. The dentist had to pull out the fragments, put a bone graft in my jaw, and insert an implant.”
Since much of the evidence is anecdotal, we carried out a Facebook Survey in April, May 2017 to find out just how widespread the problem is.
Here are the questions we asked and the response received:
Clenching while lifting is a common problem for weightlifters. To enhance performance, weightlifters sometimes tense up, enlisting more muscles than necessary. When this happens, there’s a tendency to contract the biting muscles.
In our survey of 570 weightlifters, 80.7% said they clench their teeth while they lift. Of these, 48% were male and 52% were female.
Dentist and regular weightlifter, Samantha Sacchetti, says: “As someone who both lifts weights and provides dental care to weightlifters, I can say with certainty that teeth grinding and jaw clenching – also known as bruxism – during strength training is a very real phenomenon. It’s known as ‘concurrent activation potentiation’, which basically means that during a physical task, muscles not directly involved in that task are activated. Studies have shown that jaw clenching enhances athletic performance.”
Of the weightlifters surveyed, 67% of those who responded said they were aware they’re clenching while lifting weights. However, only 35% are aware of the effect it can have on the teeth.
“If you clench while lifting, the resulting pain can manifest in many ways,” says Dr Sacchetti. “The muscles involved in closing your jaw, namely the masseter muscles, can become sore. Due to the proximity of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) to some of the cranial nerves, it may feel like an earache or headache. If there are underlying problems, clenching may exacerbate them and cause dental pain, which can feel like sensitivity to temperature or on chewing – or a dull, throbbing sensation.”
What Damage Does Clenching Cause?
- Clenching can cause tiny pieces of enamel to fracture at the weakest point along the gum line. According to Dr Sacchetti, these abfractions look like small notches. Many believe they are caused by aggressive brushing, whereas clenching is the culprit
- Fracture lines can appear on the surface of the teeth. These can be superficial, but if they extend through the body of the tooth, they can become painful and in some cases the tooth will break
- Clenching and grinding wears away tooth structure
- If a person has had dental work, such as fillings or crowns, clenching and grinding can damage these
Respondents offered the following tips to other weightlifters on how to avoid clenching while lifting:
Medical Professionals’ Recommendations:
- Short-term solutions include a custom-made mouth guard to cushion the impact and prevent the teeth from touching. Mouth guards also help prevent headaches caused by repeated contraction of the masticatory muscles
- Lift in front of a mirror while paying attention to the tension in your face. You’ll see your masseter muscles flexing if you’re clenching
- Between sets, relax the facial muscles to give your jaw a break, massaging the masseters if they’re feeling tense
- Be aware of your intake of pre-workout supplements. Many contain high amounts of caffeine that can cause even more clenching
- Visit your dentist! He or she is best placed to identify problems caused by clenching and grinding and will advise on your treatment options
*Cerezen Facebook Survey of weightlifters carried out in April, May 2017.