Don't Stress ... Smile!

The Impacts Of Stress On Dental Health

by Dr. Edmond Suh // October - November - December 2020

Our world has been a very different place the last few months. While we all experience our share of normal life stress, the added COVID-19 stressors like employment concerns, social distancing, face masks, and feelings of isolation have intensified the stress levels in most of our lives. Stress, especially now, can dramatically impact your smile.

As a result of increased stress, many people experience grinding and clenching of their teeth, known as bruxism. This can occur while awake or asleep and often happens without the realization that it’s happening.

Clenching teeth is simply gritting your teeth together, while grinding is moving your teeth back and forth, generally front to back. Both clenching and grinding can lead to dental problems such as the fracture of a tooth, pain in your jaw joints (TMJ), and even bone loss around the root of your tooth.

Many people primarily grind or clench their teeth at night. The extended amount of time this occurs while sleeping increases the likelihood of dental problems. Some indications that you may be grinding or clenching while you sleep include waking with the following symptoms: facial pain that can include swelling; headaches; earaches; pain and stiffness in the jaw joint (TMJ); worn-down enamel on the teeth; broken, chipped teeth or fillings; sensitivity of the teeth; and loose teeth.

Bruxism is not limited to adults and can also affect children. This can occur in response to pain resulting from teething, earaches, or when children feel stressed. It can also happen when their teeth are misaligned. While most children outgrow bruxism when they lose their baby teeth, a custom fit mouth guard can prevent damage of their permanent teeth. Some symptoms you may observe if your child is experiencing grinding or clenching of his or her teeth include: grinding sounds when he or she is sleeping; complaints of a sore jaw or face when waking up; and pain while chewing.

Oftentimes, individuals who grind or clench their teeth while sleeping have additional sleep disorders, such as snoring, sleep apnea, or restless sleeping. Some dentists offer in-home sleep studies to help identify these conditions as well.

If you suspect you are grinding or clenching your teeth, you should contact your dentist. The earlier detection of grinding and clenching helps prevent more severe dental problems and reduces the possibility of needing extensive dental work to repair any resulting damage.

Because the habit of grinding and clenching your teeth occurs unconsciously while you are awake or asleep, generally it’s the result of stress, anxiety, dreaming, or concentration. Breaking this habit can be challenging, but is an important challenge.

Protecting your teeth is one of the best things you can do to prevent damage.

One of the most common ways of protecting your teeth while sleeping is using a mouth guard. This provides a barrier between the top and bottom teeth, reducing the impact of grinding or clenching and preventing damage to the teeth. While mouth guards are available in some retail locations, for the best and most comfortable fit, you should contact your dentist for a custom fit guard for your teeth.

Maintaining good oral hygiene, including regular check-ups and cleanings with your dentist, can help catch bruxism in the early stages and prevent future dental damage. Protect your smile at all times, but especially during these unprecedented times of added stress.

Dr. Edmond Suh

Owner of Supremia Dentistry, located at 1711 S. Main St. in Wake Forest.