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The Clenching-Grinding Spectrum and Fear Circuitry Disorders: Clinical Insights from the Neuroscience/Paleoanthropology Interface

  • H. Stefan Bracha, Tyler C. Ralston, Andrew E. Williams, Jennifer M. Yamashita and Adam S. Bracha...


This review discusses the clenching-grinding spectrum from the neuropsychiatric/neuroevolutionary perspective. In neuropsychiatry, signs of jaw clenching may be a useful objective marker for detecting or substantiating a self-report of current subjective emotional distress. Similarly, accelerated tooth wear may be an objective clinical sign for detecting, or substantiating, long-lasting anxiety. Clenching-grinding behaviors affect at least 8% of the population. We argue that during the early paleolithic environment of evolutionary adaptedness, jaw clenching was an adaptive trait because it rapidly strengthened the masseter and temporalis muscles, enabling a stronger, deeper and therefore more lethal bite in expectation of conflict (warfare) with conspecifics. Similarly, sharper incisors produced by teeth grinding may have served as weaponry during early human combat. We posit that alleles predisposing to fear-induced clenching-grinding were evolutionarily conserved in the human clade (lineage) since they remained adaptive for anatomically and mitochondrially modern humans (Homo sapiens) well into the mid-paleolithic. Clenching-grinding, sleep bruxism, myofacial pain, craniomaxillofacial musculoskeletal pain, temporomandibular disorders, oro-facial pain, and the fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue spectrum disorders are linked. A 2003 Cochrane meta-analysis concluded that dental procedures for the above spectrum disorders are not evidence based. There is a need for early detection of clenching-grinding in anxiety disorder clinics and for research into science-based interventions. Finally, research needs to examine the possible utility of incorporating physical signs into Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition posttraumatic stress disorder diagnostic criteria. One of the diagnostic criterion that may need to undergo a revision in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition is Criterion D (persistent fear-circuitry activation not present before the trauma). Grinding-induced incisor wear, and clenching-induced palpable masseter tenderness may be examples of such objective physical signs of persistent fear-circuitry activation (posttraumatic stress disorder Criterion D).


Corresponding author

Please direct all correspondence to: H. Stefan Bracha, MD, National Center for PTSD, Department of Veterans Affairs, Pacific Islands Health Care System, Spark M. Matsunaga Medical Center, 1132 Bishop Street, Suite 307, Honolulu, HI 96813-2830; Fax: 808-566-1885; E-mail:


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The Clenching-Grinding Spectrum and Fear Circuitry Disorders: Clinical Insights from the Neuroscience/Paleoanthropology Interface

  • H. Stefan Bracha, Tyler C. Ralston, Andrew E. Williams, Jennifer M. Yamashita and Adam S. Bracha...


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