You might recognize a headache, tense back muscles, and an upset stomach as telltale symptoms of stress and anxiety, but can you recognize how the condition affects your dental health? Stress is considered one common cause of tooth grinding. One of the most common indications of prolonged tension is bruxism, or habitual teeth-grinding, which can lead to a host of subsequent problems if not addressed. However, bruxism isn’t the only way your mouth reacts to unhealthy levels of emotional stress.
The Biology of Stress
Stress is how your body reacts to environmental challenges, and by itself, stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can motivate you to strive harder and achieve more, and in rare circumstances, your body’s heightened awareness can save your life. When you’re stressed, a number of things happen, including;
- Your heart rate and blood pressure rise
- You breathe more rapidly
- Your muscles become tense
- Your senses become sharper
- You grit or grind your teeth
Unfortunately, your mind and body don’t differentiate between life-threatening danger and the stress that modern daily life can impose on you. Tight deadlines, tough demands from superiors at work, and other common stressors can cause your body’s awareness to remain at threat level, and the strain on your body can significantly influence your oral and overall health.
Grind, Grind, Grind Your Teeth
The muscles in your jaw are among the strongest in your body and can exert up to 600 pounds or more of pressure on your back teeth when tense. When you’re agitated, angry, anxious, uncomfortable, or otherwise stressed, your teeth can grind together as your jaw muscles clench. For many patients, grinding usually occurs at night, during sleep, and they may not be aware of their habit until it begins to noticeably affect their dental health. Signs that might warn Dr. Fondriest of your tooth gnashing can include:
- Excessive tooth wear, especially on the chewing surfaces
- Recurring headaches
- Cracked or fractured teeth
- Sensitive teeth
- TMJ disorder (a dysfunction with your jaw’s joints)
Worry = Neglect
The more you worry about something, the less you worry about anything else. If your stress is significant enough to affect your dental health, it might be large enough to block out thoughts of routine habits, like brushing and flossing your teeth every day. Neglecting your hygiene and dental healthcare is an almost-sure-fire way to allow dental diseases to develop. As you stress over your stressors, oral bacteria can quietly gather in force on your teeth and along your gums, releasing acids and toxins that target your teeth and gums and incite gum disease and cavities. Overcoming your stress may not be an easy task, but Dr. Fondriest advises you to keep in mind the importance of daily brushing and flossing. With a little willpower, you can help protect your dental health until you’re able to conquer your prolonged stress and tooth grinding habit.
Gum Disease & Your Immune System
Your immune system automatically targets harmful microorganisms and works to drive them out while preventing an infection. Inflammation is one of your immune system’s most effective responses, but can also damage the soft tissues in your mouth and body if allowed to run rampant. By overworking your mind and body by keeping them on high alert, stress can affect your body’s ability to regulate its immune system and fight off malicious germs. As a result, high levels of stress can make you more vulnerable to gum disease, both of which stem from infections caused by excessive oral bacteria and dental plaque. As gum inflammation and disease progress, your weakened immune system will have a harder time fighting it off, and you’ll be more susceptible to the destruction of gum disease, including permanent tooth loss.
Find out more about the relationship between Stress and tooth grinding
Aside from providing expert cosmetic dentistry services to our community, Dr. James Fondriest also holds highly-respected academic appointments at the Pankey Institute in Key Biscayne, FL, and the Spear Institute in Scottsdale, AZ, and he is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Prosthodontics at the University of Florida Dental School. At Lake Forest Dental Arts, Dr. Fondriest combines his impressive array of experience with modern technology and caring, compassionate, and knowledgeable staff, and we proudly serve patients from Chicago and all surrounding communities. To schedule your consultation, call our office today at (847) 234-0517.