By David Buice
When you think of the common causes of dental problems, the usual suspects include failing to brush and floss daily, the lack of regular, professional dental care, and large quantities of sugary foods and sodas. But in addition to these well-known sources of dental issues, we should also add teeth grinding.
If you frequently clench your jaws during the day or wake up with sensitive teeth, a sore jaw, or a headache, you may be suffering from bruxism — grinding, clenching, or gnashing of your teeth, a common condition that affects 1 in 3 adults in the daytime and 1 in 10 at night.
Causes of Teeth Grinding
The exact causes are unique to each individual, but stress often appears to be a major culprit. Daytime grinding is usually associated with stress, anxiety, tension, and even concentration. At night, grinding is sometimes related to hyperactivity, sleep apnea, acid reflux and can also appear as a side effect of certain medications used to treat depression.
Effects on your Oral Health
In addition to cracked or chipped teeth, stress and grinding can potentially affect your oral health in other ways.
• TMJ disorder – TMJ stands for temporomandibular joints, located just below your ears and used to move the lower jaw. Symptoms of the disorder include pain, along with clicking and popping when the lower jaw moves.
• Gum disease – Researchers at Tufts University studying the link between stress and gum disease have shown that when the body is experiencing stress, its ability to manufacture immune cells to protect against bacteria is compromised. That situation, in turn, allows bacteria in the mouth to thrive, which can lead to inflammation of the gums and periodontal disease.
If you’re suffering from the side effects of stress and teeth grinding, you should seek professional help, and treatment options include the following.
• Nightguard – Your dentist may outfit you with a nightguard, like a retainer, to protect the teeth. But it doesn’t stop the grinding, and you’ll need to address the underlying causes of the problem.
• Medications – Muscle relaxers can help relax the jaw and stop nighttime grinding. If you’re taking antidepressants, your doctor may prescribe a different medication that doesn’t come with the risk of bruxism.
• Behavioral modification – Individuals suffering from extreme stress and teeth grinding might seek help from a psychologist or other professional counselor and get assistance with stress handling and relaxation training, including biofeedback.
A Final Word
Specialists at the Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles studying stress and bruxism have found that they often affect individuals with ambitious, rigidly organized, proactive, type-A personalities. Dr. David Scott, a Cedars Sinai clinical psychologist, says that rather than getting his patients to reinvent themselves, he asks them to separate teeth grinding from the stresses that cause it.
“It’s not about changing who you are or eliminating all sources of stress from life,” he says, “but learning how to leave your body out of it.”