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Stress & Teeth Grinding: Do Something Now!

by | Apr 25, 2015 | Blog

Do you have stress?

Most of us can say confidently that we do; there’s probably not a person in Glen Ellyn who would say no to that question.

A little stress is a good thing; with just the right amount of pressure, you can accomplish a great deal. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for most of us, and for a good portion of Americans, stress can be such a problem it has negative effects on the body, as well as the mind.

One of the more serious health problems that arise from excess or uncontrolled stress is teeth grinding. Grinding teeth isn’t just a nuisance, nor is it a quirk to be ignored. If you grind your teeth, you’re putting yourself at risk for developing a number of oral health problems, including fractured teeth, Cracked Tooth Syndrome, and TMD (temporomandibular disorders, which you might also know as TMJ), and even root canals.

What is teeth grinding?

Teeth grinding, or bruxism (when you grind your teeth, you’re bruxing) occurs in both adults and children. For children who brux, the culprit usually isn’t stress, but the mild discomfort they feel as their teeth grow. In all likelihood, they’ll grow out of it (that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be treated).

In adults, the problem is much more complicated. While teeth grinding can occur during the day, it is the grinding that takes place at night during sleep, or nocturnal bruxism, that causes people the most problems.

Just as stress is a common problem, so is bruxism: 25% to 50% of adults grind their teeth in their sleep, doing damage to their teeth that without treatment will develop into more serious problems. 8% of adults have severe bruxism.

How bruxism works

Many of us clench our teeth or even grind them when we’re angry or under a lot of stress. Usually when this happens you can only do that for so long until your jaw or some other part of you starts to hurt or gets tired (if you’re awake that is).

At night, you can’t tell your jaw to stop clenching, or your teeth to stop grinding. As if they have minds of their own, your teeth grind, and they grind hard. Your teeth experience anywhere from 300% to 1000% of daytime biting pressure.

To give you some context, it takes about 16 to 34 pounds of force to chew tougher foods, like carrots or meat. Imagine the effort that actually takes, then multiply it by 1000%. That’s 340 pounds of biting pressure, all night, and it’s nothing but teeth-on-teeth friction, which is nearly three times maximum human bite strength (or a little more than a mountain lion and a little less than a gray wolf, according to some measures).

You can imagine how much damage that much force is doing to your teeth, and if you have bruxism, you’re doing it every night, and you’re not even conscious to do anything about it.

You need to see a dentist right away if you think you have bruxism.

How can I know if I have bruxism?

If you think you might suffer from bruxism, see if you can spot any of these symptoms:

  • Pain in the jaw, face, or ear that can’t readily be explained
  • Increased tooth sensitivity
  • Tight or tired jaw muscles
  • Headaches that “radiate” from the temples
  • Teeth appear to be worn or otherwise damaged
  • Tongue and cheeks show damage or other signs of chewing

One of the more obvious symptoms is the grinding itself, which can be very loud and disruptive. If you have a sleeping partner and you have bruxism, there’s a good chance it’s keeping them up at night. Ask them!

How can my dentist help?

Your dentist will help you by fitting you with a custom mouthguard (sometimes called a nightguard). It will be tailored specifically for you, and it will use materials that are far stronger than over-the-counter mouthguard you might have seen in the store.

Aren’t over-the-counter mouth guards good enough?

Even if you have moderate bruxism, over-the-counter solutions have many drawbacks that make them far less effective than the one your dentist will provide.

  • They aren’t custom fit to your teeth, which means that there will be discomfort. It’s been shown that if an appliance isn’t comfortable, people stop wearing them.
  • They are made of materials that will wear out quickly; remember, at night you’re bite strength at night is somewhere between a mountain lion and a gray wolf. You’re going to want something that will last, and not fall apart in your mouth while you sleep!

I’ll just “deal”.

If you find yourself saying that as you read this,know this:

You have one set of teeth, and no part of them grows back if lost or damaged.

Teeth grinding wears away the enamel of your tooth. Once it is gone, it is totally gone, and there is no man-made equivalent. If this happens, your teeth will begin to crack and fracture. That’s obviously a bad situation, but it gets worse, because once there’s a crack in your teeth, it’s simply a matter of time before bacteria enters your tooth and causes an infection, which if left unaddressed can actually kill.

That’s not always what happens, but you’ll need a root canal, or a crown, or something much more serious. “Just dealing with it” will end up costing you far more in the long run, and you will lose your teeth (and gain a lot of pain and expense!).

Do something with the stress!

It is possible that your bruxism is caused by misalignment of the teeth. For most people though it’s stress or emotional distress.

Here are a few tips that can help you handle your stress more effectively. If you do have bruxism, you can even see a reduction in your symptoms.

EXERCISE: You don’t have to join a gym or become a bodybuilder. By adding a couple thirty minute walks to your daily routine you will be able to better control your stress.

MEDITATE: Despite what you might see on TV or movies, meditation doesn’t have to be a spiritual experience, or done with a lot of fanfare or showiness. Meditation is proved to help with stress management, and there’s no set of rules, or special clothing, or anything. Click herefor more details for ideas on how to add meditation to your routine.

CHECK THE MEDICINE CABINET: It’s possible you know you’re stressed, and you may even take medication to help manage your symptoms. If you have bruxism, or believe you might have bruxism, talk to your prescribing doctor or healthcare provider about bruxism and see if changing your medication helps.

QUIT SMOKING: Tobacco is a stimulant, and it can definitely contribute to bruxism symptoms and stress. Do you need another reason to stop?

WATCH YOUR ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION: Many people choose to consume alcohol without any problems, but alcohol use can be a cause of bruxism. You don’t need to go to AA, but it might do you some good to reassess your relationship with alcohol, with cutting down as the goal.

Why not fix the problem now?

If you grind your teeth, and you’ve been avoiding going to the dentist, think of it this way: inside your mouth is a ticking time bomb. When the clock stops, what results could cost you a lot of pain, a lot of money, and possibly your teeth, which can NEVER BE COMPLETELY REPLACED.

If you’re living in Glen Ellyn, or anywhere in the Chicago area, and you’d like to get help with bruxism or teeth grinding, click herefor an appointment to get to our online appointment form. For those of you who prefer a human to a screen, you can always call us at 630-858-8800.

If you have stress in your day-to-day life, you might also have anxiety about seeing the dentist. Don’t let this stop you from saving your teeth! Ask about our Sedation Dentistry options.

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