When Stress Damages Your Teeth
Stress is already unpleasant in itself – but the very real pain it can cause is even more damaging. While stress may seem mental, it has physical ramifications. When you’re living with a heightened level of anxiety, your muscles, organs, and more suffer. And your teeth are some of the first casualties.
How does your body respond when you’re feeling stressed? Some people get headaches, others struggle to sleep, others overeat – and many of us grind our teeth. If you wake up with sore teeth, an exhausted jaw, and facial pain or headaches, you’re likely a part of this group. What’s most alarming about teeth grinding is that many sufferers don’t realize what’s happening inside their mouths. This is because grinding typically takes place during sleep, with the jaw muscles contracting independent of conscious commands.
Are your pearly whites at risk? Keep reading to learn more about whether stress might be impacting your smile. Plus, get tips on reducing your daily anxiety to help your muscles relax.
How Stress Causes Teeth Grinding
Chronic grinding is also known as bruxism, and it’s a big problem. If you’re an adult, you have a lot of responsibilities – professional, financial and to your family. These responsibilities build up
and can cause undue personal stress. That stress needs an outlet – and it doesn’t always get it.
When you’re stressed, the brain releases hormones that prepare the body for fight or flight. These hormones (cortisol, adrenaline, and more) lead to an increased heart rate and blood pressure. They also cause subtle tensing of the muscles, which leads to aches and pains.
For many patients, muscles tense in the jaw – and they don’t notice it happening. That ongoing tension damages both teeth and components of the jaw, leading to potential problems like:
- Eroded enamel
- Cracked teeth
- Broken dental work
- Heightened sensitivity
- Gum recession
- Headaches & facial pain
- Jaw joint trauma
When Grinding Progresses to a TMJ Disorder
Long-term pressure on the jaw can lead to jaw dysfunction and TMJ disorder. The jaw joint may become damaged, or may become so accustomed to harmful movements that it struggles to work properly. In either case, it will become difficult to perform daily activities like eating, speaking, and chewing. Your jaw may feel exhausted and hard to move. You will require treatment to heal your jaw and help retrain it – but stopping grinding first is absolutely necessary to end the problem.
Soothing Tense Jaw Muscles at Home
Try the following to reduce muscle tension in the jaw at home:
- Conscious muscle relaxation – Spend time before bed each night clearing your mind and focusing on rest
- Jaw stretches – Try jaw exercises that work your jaw muscles to help relieve tension
- Change your nightly routine – Avoid smoking, caffeine and alcohol before bed, and don’t use your laptop, read or watch TV while in bed
- Use a night guard – Wear a guard to protect your enamel and help stop your lower jaw from clenching
- Research stress management – Discover ways to reduce your daily stress for years to come – more tips below
If these approaches aren’t helping, consider professional help. You may benefit from receiving therapy to help reduce your stress and improve your stress management techniques. You may also benefit from orthodontic treatment to realign your jaws. Malocclusion can lead to the teeth clenching and struggling to fit into a comfortable position, which leads to TMJ problems. If you think you may benefit from orthodontics, schedule a consultation to learn more.
Reduce Daily Stress to Improve Health Long-Term
Each of us is an individual – you’ll need to take some time to figure out which stress management techniques will work for you. This can take some research and experimenting. It’s not as easy as picking up a musical instrument or getting into an exercise routine (although those approaches can be helpful). Some individuals find a path forward with the help of a therapist.
If you’re experiencing consistent physical effects of stress, you deserve relief. Some popular methods of de-stressing include:
- Changing your work habits (not working on the weekends / reducing hours, or making sure not to work at home). If this is impossible and stress is damaging your life, it might be a good idea to consider a job change.
- Meditation or yoga
- Regular exercise routine
- Setting aside personal time for relaxation and self care
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