What do your teeth have to do with stress? In dentistry, we often say that the state of your mouth indicates your overall health. Bruxism, the term used to describe habitual teeth grinding, happens for many reasons, but stress is a common contributor. In the United States alone, 30-40 million people are affected by bruxism.
Bruxism also includes clenching your jaw, and many times the clenching and grinding happens at night. Many times, patients aren’t even aware that they grind their teeth, whether it takes place during the day or at night. Just as dental professionals know when you are (or aren’t) flossing, we can also tell when your teeth are showing signs of wear due to grinding.
Stress and anxiety are common reasons why people suffer from bruxism, but there are other reasons that teeth grinding occurs. Teeth grinding can also occur because of sleep disorders or an abnormal bite caused by crooked or missing teeth.
Learn and Identify the Symptoms
How do you know if you suffer from bruxism if you don’t realize you are actively grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw? There are other symptoms to look for, and your dental professional can help you identify them. Symptoms include:
- Dull headaches primarily starting in the temples.
- Teeth that are fractured, flattened, chipped or loose.
- Worn tooth enamel.
- Increased tooth pain or sensitivity
- Sore jaw muscles or a locked jaw that won’t open or close completely, as well as neck or face pain.
- Pain that feels like an earache.
- Disruption in sleep habits.
How to Alleviate Symptoms
For mild cases of bruxism, steps can be taken on your own to alleviate the symptoms. For most, this includes reflecting on your current lifestyle habits and circumstances. Identify areas in your life that are causing you worry, anger or frustrated feelings. Maybe you are feeling added pressure of the holiday season to check off your to-do lists and attend multiple gatherings. Try coping with relaxation techniques. Take deep breaths throughout the day – even if you don’t think that you are stressed. Other ways to alleviate anxiety include prayer and meditation, journaling, counseling and exercise.
A dentist can also help to fit you with a mouth guard to wear at night. While mouth guards won’t stop you from clenching or grinding, it will help protect your teeth and mouth from the negative impacts of bruxism.
Although teeth grinding is a common condition, you don’t have to suffer. Be sure to regularly see your dentist and talk through your symptoms. Together, you and your dental professionals can make sure your smile is ready for whatever comes your way this holiday season and beyond.
-Mark Scallon, DDS