How Daily Stress Affects Teeth Grinding

Many people grind their teeth occasionally when under stress, but this can become a problem and lead to health consequences if teeth grinding becomes chronic. You may not even realize it, but you could have bruxism if you’re grinding your teeth whether you’re awake or asleep. In this article, we’ll discuss the characteristics and symptoms of bruxism, how stress affects teeth grinding and tips on how to reduce grinding.

What is bruxism?

Bruxism is a medical condition where the individual slides their teeth back and forth in grinding, gnashing or clenching motions. This can occur both when you’re conscious or asleep, but sleep bruxism is considered a more consequential sleep-related disorder since it’s often undetected and therefore untreated. Since you’re unaware of bruxism while asleep, you may grind your teeth consistently throughout the night and with much greater force than you would while awake.

Symptoms

Although some people don’t experience pain or other symptoms from bruxism, it often presents with the following symptoms:
  • Flattened, fractured, chipped or loose teeth
  • Increased tooth pain or sensitivity
  • Sleep disruption
  • Worn tooth enamel
  • Broken fillings
  • Headaches
  • Sore or painful jaw, neck or face
  • Muscle tenderness
  • Earaches
  • Disrupting partner’s sleep

Health complications

In addition to acute symptoms, bruxism can lead to other negative health consequences and complications. These include:
  • Lasting damage to oral health including teeth, jaw and crowns
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders which cause ongoing pain
  • Tension headaches
  • Severe facial or jaw pain
  • Changes in facial appearance
  • Insomnia and other sleep disorders
  • Depression and other mood disorders
  • Eating disorders

Causes

Many factors may influence the onset and presence of bruxism. About 15% of children experience bruxism but usually grow out of it by adulthood. It may also be related to genetics if your family has a history of bruxism, or it could be associated with other medical conditions such as dementia, sleep disorders or epilepsy. Misaligned teeth and bites are a risk factor too. Stress and related mood issues may also increase the risk of bruxism.

How does stress affect teeth grinding?

Bruxism is often linked to stress, anxiety and other mood issues. Stress is defined as an individual’s feeling in response to emotional or physical demands that they feel exceed their capacities or resources. This response is typically expressed through physiological functions, behavior, performance and other subjective symptoms. Other forms of stress may include emotional, psychological or psychosocial stress. Emotional or psychological stress may be triggered by underlying traits or acute life events, while socially threatening situations may trigger psychosocial stress. Causes of stress may include:
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Financial problems
  • Occupational or job problems
  • Family issues
  • Sleep deficiency
  • Social exclusion
  • Goal or evaluation-related fear
In studies with subjects experiencing stress, anxiety or neuroticism, patients reported increased degrees of oral health complaints. Individuals with anxiety reported oral wear, as well as difficulties with dry mouth and eating. Although patients with neuroticism showed less or no oral wear, they did experience higher oral inflammation markers. Whether as a result of general personality traits or acutely stressful life events, individuals may also turn to coping mechanisms to manage their responses. This can include alcohol, tobacco or other substances, as well as unhealthy diet habits and food high in sugar. Each of these coping responses have negative oral health consequences.

Tips to relieve stress and improve bruxism symptoms

There are many treatments and methods to address both bruxism and stress symptoms and causes. These include:

Medical treatment

Your doctor can consider information like your age, medical history and personal preferences to develop a treatment plan. This may include therapy to teach you how to relax your teeth, tongue and lips to avoid grinding or clenching teeth. If you grind your teeth at night, your doctor may also prescribe a mouthguard to prevent oral damage. Some medications can also alleviate bruxism symptoms.

Stress and mood disorder treatment

In addition to oral health treatment, you may also seek out a specific treatment for stress or other psychological responses. Health professionals can identify sources of stress and provide treatment and therapy to help you better manage stress.

Practice relaxation

In addition to therapy, you can practice stress relief on your own. This may include mindfulness practices through meditation or guided breathing. Exercise can also boost your energy and mood and reduce stress levels. Try other activities that provide energy and fulfillment to mitigate stress, such as art, reading or spending time outside.

Nutrition

Rather than seeking out sugary foods when stressed, try opting for healthier solutions. This can include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein. While skipping meals or choosing suboptimal foods can add to stress, a balanced diet can help regulate your physiology and keep your energy and mood levels consistent.

Express your stress

Even if you can’t remove the source of stress, getting support from friends and family can help. They can sometimes offer helpful perspectives, but expressing and entrusting your stress to somebody else can help you to manage it. If you’re not ready to discuss stress with others, try writing your thoughts down.
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