Stress Awareness Month: What it Means to Your Mouth

April is Stress Awareness Month. These days, just about all of us are trying to mentally shuffle our way through the toughest days of our lives, especially given that we’re a year into a global pandemic. But Stress Awareness Month isn’t just about pointing out all of the things that are going wrong in our lives. It’s more to raise a level of conscious awareness about stressors that impact us and what we can do to help better handle them.

Anything from our jobs to family problems can cause stress in our lives. Some issues we can work to improve, others, not so much.

Unfortunately, unmanaged stress can lead to serious health problems like high blood pressure and recurring anxiety attacks. It might even raise your risk for heart disease and diabetes!

So, what does any of this have to do with your mouth? Bruxism. AKA “teeth grinding.”

How Your Teeth Handle Stress

When we feel stressed out, we’re at a much higher risk of chronic teeth grinding and clenching (bruxism.) Our body just naturally seems to want to clench our jaws tightly together any time we’re under pressure.

You might find that you’re clenching your teeth together on the commute home after a stressful day at work. Or maybe you’re working on a super-important paper and are getting headaches hours in, because you’re subconsciously gritting your teeth. Maybe there’s someone in your family with chronic health problems and when you wake up in the mornings your jaw and teeth are sore. You might not even realize it, but you could be teeth grinding in your sleep!

Symptoms of Bruxism, Teeth Grinding

This Stress Awareness Month, check yourself for the oral symptoms of chronic stress, such as:

Sore TMJ, Jaw or Headaches — The most common side-effects of chronic teeth grinding (from stress) are sore teeth, headaches, and jaw pain. Sometimes these symptoms “flare up” when stress is highest. You might notice the pain most when you wake up in the morning or at the end of the day.

Flattened, Worn Teeth — Tooth enamel is durable, but it can’t hold up to excessive tooth-on-tooth wear from bruxism. If you’re excessively grinding your teeth together, they’ll start to gradually wear one another out. You’ll notice flattened biting surfaces and sharp edges on your teeth. 

Fractured Enamel or Dental Work — Perhaps instead of wearing your teeth down, all of that stress is breaking them apart. This is probably a lot more likely if you have extensive dental work like fillings or crowns. Since those restorations are not as strong as enamel is, they’ll probably start to fracture before your teeth do. But once they do, your tooth will be compromised and start to break apart at the same time. 

Pain in Your Ears, Neck, or Shoulders — We carry a lot of the stress of our lives inside of our muscles. Particularly in our shoulders and back. Add teeth grinding into the mix, and that muscle tension will radiate through your ears, scalp, and forehead, as well as down into your shoulders. Earaches aren’t unheard of; but instead of that ear pain coming from an infection, it’s caused by the tension of your TMJ just in front of them.

How to Treat Bruxism

This Stress Awareness Month, ask yourself “Am I suffering from teeth grinding?” If you are, we can help you treat and prevent the symptoms. Not by getting rid of your stress (we wish we could) but by protecting your teeth against bruxism.

One of the best treatments for teeth grinding is wearing a protective occlusal splint or “nightguard”. These special mouthguards place a buffer between your upper and lower teeth, preventing them from clenching together. When your teeth can’t grit against one another, your enamel doesn’t get worn down and your TMJ doesn’t get (as) worn out.

Part of Stress Awareness Month is recognizing your triggers. If you know you had a rough day at work or you’re dealing with a particularly challenging family member (maybe you’re even going through a divorce) be proactive before you feel the pain. Wear your bite splint on your drive home and definitely put it in right before you go to bed at night.

You might be able to break your daytime bruxism habit if you’ve got the will power to remember to constantly check yourself. But if you can’t, a custom bite splint is an easy way to protect your teeth.

Suffer From Teeth Grinding? Call Today!

The Center For Restorative & Cosmetic Dentistry provides the care you need to keep your smile healthy. That includes managing the oral side-effects of chronic stress! During our consultation, Dr. Yazdan will evaluate your oral symptoms to determine the best treatment option for your situation.

Call our Newport Beach dentist today for an appointment.

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