STRESS–There is a lot to be potentially stressed about in our world as of late. And did you know that one of the causes of teeth grinding or “bruxism” is stress and anxiety? You might also be surprised to hear that teeth grinding can impact your oral health more than you may know. We have summarized two dental articles below to help educate you on teeth grinding and its symptoms, causes and treatment.
According to Dr. Anita M. Mark, in her article, “Your Teeth and Jaws Under Pressure,” bruxism is a habit in which a person grinds their teeth or clenches or thrusts their jaw forward over and over again. The American Dental Association (ADA) Mouth Healthy online article, entitled “Teeth Grinding,” adds that it is actually common in children, and that it can affect children as young as preschool age. And while some children may outgrow it, often adults who grind their teeth or clench their jaws also did so as children. The good news, says the ADA article, is that for children it is usually not a damaging habit that requires treatment and most outgrow it by adolescence.
Dr. Mark and the ADA article describe the symptoms that go along with bruxism. The ADA article lists the following symptoms of bruxism: jaw soreness, teeth that are painful or loose and fractured teeth. Dr. Mark also lists headaches when you wake up, teeth sensitivity to hot or cold drinks or food, and chipped teeth or fillings. Finally, she mentions that bruxism can also lead to gum problems.
The ADA Mouth Healthy article explains that bruxism often happens when you sleep, and that this can be due to stress and anxiety, as well as sleep disorders. Dr. Mark elaborates on the impact of stress and anxiety on bruxism by noting studies that have found an association between preschoolers grinding their teeth or clenching their jaws and anxiety or social withdrawal.
The ADA article explains that while teeth grinding is often the result of stress in adults, this is not always true with children. Other causes of bruxism in children are mouth irritation, allergies and misaligned teeth. To this, Dr. Mark adds that children can develop bruxism when they are losing their baby teeth and when their permanent teeth are erupting. An abnormal bite or teeth that are missing or crooked can also impact bruxism in adults. And for children and adults, Dr. Mark says that nail biting may lead to teeth grinding or jaw clenching.
In adults, there has been shown to be a correlation between bruxism and the use of substances. According to the ADA article, those who drink alcohol and smoke are approximately twice as likely to grind their teeth. Dr. Mark adds that large amounts of caffeine, for instance 8 or more cups of coffee a day, can also increase your risk of bruxism. In addition, she mentions that some medications or illegal drugs may cause users to grind their teeth and to clench or thrust their jaws.
Dr. Mark says that there is not a lot of research on how to best treat bruxism, though it is clear that some of the treatments that exist address the potential causes. For instance, she mentions decreasing or quitting tobacco use, limiting caffeine intake, talking to your physician about medication options, and seeking counseling to help decrease anxiety and increase relaxation. Another available option she mentions is an oral appliance that your dentist may recommend. This is a plastic tray that fits over your teeth to help reduce grinding, clenching and thrusting. And obviously taking steps to ensure proper teeth alignment is important as well.
The ADA article adds that sometimes your dentist or physician may recommend a muscle relaxant before bedtime. In addition, exercise or other stress-reducing activities may be recommended.
We recognize that there are some things in life we can do something about and some things that we cannot. We cannot control many of the stressors that come our way, but we can make healthy life decisions that affect even our oral health, in this case teeth grinding or clenching. We can take steps to reduce anxiety, increase quality sleep, and stop or decrease the use of substances. We can also seek other oral solutions that promote proper teeth alignment and that decrease the force applied to teeth. In short, life does feel like it is spins out of control at times, but we and our oral health don’t have to.
American Dental Association. Teeth Grinding. Mouth Healthy. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/t/teeth-grinding. Accessed July 1, 2010.
Mark, A.M. Your Teeth and Jaws Under Pressure. The Journal of the American Dental Association. Feb. 2018; 149 (2): 166.