Have you ever gotten so angry or frustrated that you found yourself clenching your teeth? Or gotten tension headaches because of being overworked or overtaxed? Have you ever had an object in a death grip and had to actively relax your hold?
If so, then you’re more than familiar with some of the dramatic effects that stress can have on our bodies. This sort of muscle tension can cause disorders like pain in the temporomandibular joints or chronic headaches.
One of the problems that can happen in high-stress circumstances—one that we, as dentists, take a particular interest in—is called bruxism.
What Is Bruxism?
Bruxism is defined as “the habit of unconsciously gritting or grinding the teeth, especially in situations of stress or during sleep.”
As you might guess, the reason dentists care so much about this problem is that bruxism causes damage to your teeth. Jaw clenching puts consistent pressure on your teeth that may lead to cracking or chipping, and regular grinding will wear down your teeth.
While the enamel that coats the crowns of your teeth is tough and resilient, it cannot regrow on its own. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. If the enamel is worn or broken, your tooth will be susceptible to cavities, bacteria, and invasive particles, leading to a number of much more serious tooth problems.
Fun Fact: Enamel is actually the hardest substance produced by the human body. Yes, even harder than bone! It ranks at a 5 on the 1–10 Mohs Scale for mineral hardness.
What To Do About Bruxism
The trickiest part of this problem is just what the definition says: it is unconscious. Most of the time you won’t even realize bruxism is happening, especially if you’re a sleep-bruxer.
Bruxism is a natural reaction to certain stimuli—usually stressful situations or misaligned teeth. That makes it very difficult to simply stop. That’s where we come in.
Using scanning and crafting procedures similar to the making of custom dentures or TMJ treatment appliances, we can make a sort of dental mouthguard to protect your teeth from the pressure and friction that is slowly wearing them out.
With these teeth protectors, your enamel is kept safe from damage while we work to correct the problem, whether it be misalignment or stress.
Misalignment| If your bruxism is caused by the alignment of your teeth or jaw, orthodontics will change your life. No, that doesn’t just mean getting braces. These days, there are many great options for alignment. We’re more than happy to help you find the option that is right for you.
Stress Bruxism| If your bruxism happens due to stress, the key to reducing the muscle tension in your jaw is to also reduce your stress levels. Just like many problems in the dental industry, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this. Your individual circumstance requires individual customization.
Stress Reduction Tips
Every person is a little different. That’s what makes the world go ‘round. Some of these tips may work for you and some may not. Try them out and see which ones help you the most.
- Deep Breathing Exercises: Shallow or rapid breathing stimulates your sympathetic nervous system. Deep, slower breaths do the exact opposite. When you take several moments to breathe deeply, your body is flooded with oxygen, and your nervous system enters a more relaxed state.
- Take a Non-Strenuous Walk: Sometimes the mere act of doing something different can give us time to relax and reevaluate. A little bit of distance—either time or space—as well as the endorphins created through simple physical activity can often help make the situation feel a little easier to handle.
- Meditation and Guided Imagery: Picture a restful place, a favorite memory, or simply clear your mind in order to focus on breathing and being. These practices are powerful tools for eliciting a purposeful response from your automatic body systems.
- Do Some Yoga: Many poses in yoga are specifically designed to elicit relaxing responses from your body. That, combined with the endorphins released during physical activity, makes for a great de-stress combo.
- Talk To A Close Friend: Humans are not islands. No matter how introverted you may be, contact and communication with those with whom you share closeness and trust are as valuable to your well-being as vitamins and nutrition.
- Snacks: Not all stress-snacking is a bad thing. When your body feels like it’s out of options and energy, that can compound the way stress affects you. Filling up your energy with a small, mindful snack eliminates one of the many things your body has to worry about, giving you a little breathing room on everything else.
- Make Time For You: No machine or creature on Earth can run forever. Everything gets tired or worn out eventually, and you are no exception. Making a habit of doing something small and relaxing for even five minutes a day dramatically increases health and lowers stress. Remember, it doesn’t have to be “productive.”
Whatever solution you choose, taking some time and effort to relax will benefit your entire body as well as your teeth!
Heal Yourself AND Your Teeth
Dealing with the stressors that may cause bruxism will help keep your teeth safe and whole, but that isn’t where it ends. These de-stressing tips can also make your work life more productive and your home life easier to enjoy.