Bruxism: Is Stress Destroying Your Smile?

Bruxism: Is Stress Destroying Your Smile?

These days, we’ve all got more “on our plates” than usual. Even those of us who may feel like we’ve been blessed with relatively low-stress lifestyles may be experiencing highs and lows of anxiety or depression, due to work environments, school decisions for our children, or other impacts of COVID-19 on society.

Even if you don’t “feel” stressed, your body may be trying to cope with the changes that are going on. And one of the most common side-effects of your body “feeling” stressed, is clenching and grinding your teeth together. We call this condition “bruxism” and it’s something that can be done both consciously and subconsciously. If you feel your TMJ tightening as you focus, drive through traffic, or deal with a tough client, it’s just the way your body is responding to stress in the world around you.

But here’s the bad news. Teeth grinding habits can do damage to your smile, your TMJ, or even be indicative of a sleeping disorder.

Even if you’re not aware that you’re going through stress-induced bruxism, you might be seeing other effects in your day to day life.

Is TMJ Disorder Caused by Teeth Grinding?

Undiagnosed, chronic teeth grinding can cause long-term tension in your TMJ. Those are the joints on either side of your mandible, allowing it to move up and down and side to side. So when your cartilage or the muscles in and around your TMJ become strained or inflamed, it can lead to secondary side effects or full-blown TMJ disorder.

During flare-ups, it’s common to experience joint pain, headaches, stiffness, and limited range of motion. You might notice it at inopportune times like when you wake up in the morning or get home from work at the end of the day. Pay attention to your body, to see if other TMJ symptoms like popping or clicking are present. If so, you may need a bite guard or splint to wear to “train” your TMJ to relax when your body is feeling stressed out.  

Bruxism Effects on Enamel, Dental Work 

One of the most detrimental effects of teeth grinding on your smile is the damage it does to your enamel and dental work. Even though enamel is durable (in fact, it’s the strongest substance in your entire body) it’s not invincible. Gradually all of that pressure from clenching and grinding will cause your tooth enamel to start chipping away or wearing down, leaving flat, sharp, or jagged surfaces behind. People with chronic bruxism tend to have teeth that look shorter and flatter across their smiles.

bruxism-newport-beach-solutionBut that’s only one impact that bruxism has on your smile’s shape. Constant teeth grinding can also wear out your existing restorations (such as dental fillings, crowns, bridges, dentures, etc.) Although those restorations are quite durable, they’re not as strong as natural tooth structure. So if you’re wearing down on them day after day when you’re feeling stressed, there’s a higher chance that something is going to break. It may be that the tooth breaks off from around your filling, the filling cracks in two, or even a layer of porcelain slivers off of a crown. And when something like that happens, the entire restoration has to be replaced; it can’t be patched over. To make matters more serious, the restoration typically becomes more intrusive to the tooth, since some of the tooth structure likely came out too.

Teeth Grinding Linked to Sleep Apnea

Maybe you’ve been grinding your teeth all this time, thinking it’s caused by chronic stress. Although you may have stress in your life, nighttime bruxism is also closely linked to sleeping disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). People with OSA tend to wake up feeling tired, with a sore jaw or headaches due to the constant muscle tension.

Even though it sounds counterintuitive, your body’s natural response to oxygen deprivation is to clench your jaws and teeth tightly together. If you have OSA, this cycle of airway blockage and teeth grinding may be continuing throughout the night without you ever actually waking up.

Sleep apnea is also associated with depression, fatigue, weight gain, high blood pressure, and a host of other symptoms. If you snore or constantly feel tired, it’s worthwhile to speak to a sleep doctor about getting screened for apnea or another type of sleeping disorder. These days, there are “take home” sleep studies that you can complete in the convenience of your own bedroom.

Bruxism and Teeth Grinding Help

The Center For Restorative & Cosmetic Dentistry provides assessments for teeth grinding, sleep apnea, and TMJ disorder as part of your comprehensive exams. Dr. Desiree Yazdan may recommend an oral appliance or bite splint to limit tooth wear, snoring, or other side-effects of your bruxism habit.

If you’re waking up with a sore jaw or noticing flattened teeth, call our dentist in Newport Beach today.

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