Stress affects people of all ages in all walks of life — there’s no getting around it. To cope, we all form certain habits, many of which are unconscious. Some people’s habits are fairly harmless, like nail biting or fidgeting. Many stress-coping mechanisms, however, can be very harmful to your health.
More people than you might realize end up dealing with stress while they sleep. Teeth grinding, or bruxism, is a very common side effect of stress.
The most serious problem caused by teeth grinding is the constant wearing down of tooth enamel, which is critical to your teeth’s strength. Once enamel has been worn away, it’s impossible to get back, which is why it’s so important to stop grinding in its tracks.
Loss of enamel, unfortunately, is not the only negative consequence of bruxism. A recent study linked bruxism to other sleeping disorders, such as sleep apnea, which can be both the cause and effect of several secondary health problems.
Sleep disorders like these cause people to suffer jaw soreness and exhaustion during the day. Being tired and in pain all day can significantly impact your performance at work and your daily happiness, in addition to your long-term health.
So, the question is: How do you stop grinding your teeth?
1. Understand bruxism.
Because bruxism affects people in very different ways, it’s important to do your homework and have your particular case examined by a dentist before jumping to conclusions and seeking treatment on your own.
Just because you’re tired during the day or experience frequent headaches doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re grinding your teeth — these issues could be the result of several other conditions. This’s why you should have a doctor confirm the signs as soon as you suspect there may be a problem.
Signs of teeth grinding:
- Dull, constant headache
- Sore jaw
- Audible teeth grinding at night
- Cheek cuts
2. Reduce stress.
Your body can’t fight off stress forever without suffering consequences. Try your best to set and stick to a regular sleep schedule, and relax for at least 30 minutes before you fall asleep. Go a step further and add meditation to your routine when you wake up and before you go to bed.
A healthy diet can also help remove stress, especially if your current diet is currently less than ideal. The first step is to cut out or reduce coffee and alcohol, both of which negatively affect your brain when trying to relax, fall asleep and stay sleeping.
Finally, stop chewing on things that aren’t supposed to be eaten! If you often find yourself gnawing on a pen, gum, ice or your own nails, cut these habits out. Constantly working your jaw this way will only exacerbate any existing pain.
3. Seek medical help.
If you’ve tried some of these simpler tips and find that they aren’t helping the problem, you should contact a dental expert. The last thing you want is to end up having to pay for crowns, bridges, root canals caused by years of grinding. Here are a few treatment options you can expect your dentist to recommend.
Muscle relaxants: For some, a light muscle relaxant may be prescribed to relax the set of your jaw before bed. We suggest that you try to fix the problem naturally before seeking out a prescription.
Mouth guard: Sleeping with a mouth guard may be a bit annoying, but it’s far less annoying than the consequences of grinding. Nighttime mouth guards can be bought at the drugstore, but it’s best to have one made especially for your mouth to ensure proper fit. While the guard won’t necessarily completely stop you from grinding your teeth, it’ll redistribute the force so as not to cause damage to your teeth.
Surgery: As a last resort, in very severe cases, surgery may be done to help shape your teeth and jaw to facilitate a better fit between the bottom and top teeth. This would never be considered without a significant exploration of other treatments.
Don’t expect stress to go away any time soon — modern, active adults encounter a wide variety of stress-inducing situations every single day. You can’t quit your job, cut down your commute time or solve all family disputes, but you can learn healthy coping mechanisms that lower stress’s impact on your mind and body.
If bruxism is a problem for you, the first step is to examine your daily life and try to find ways to squeeze in a bit more relaxation and fun to offset daily pressures and tensions. For some, this alone may do the trick. Otherwise, share your concerns with your dentist. Together, you’ll be able to find the best course of action for you.
The bottom line is, don’t delay. Some simple fixes now will help prevent more serious problems down the line.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com