Bruxism is the medical term for the habit of clenching or grinding your teeth. There are a million reasons to want to stop this bad habit — not only can the sound be disturbing to others, like your partner, family, or coworkers, but it can cause a lot of damage to your teeth.
On a basic level, bruxism puts your teeth in more and higher pressure contact with each other than is normal, which can result in your teeth becoming worn, chipped, or cracked. This pressure can also cause sensitivity in your teeth and gums, and can even cause jaw pain or lead to TMJ.
But it isn’t as simple as just making the decision to stop grinding your teeth. It’s an unconscious habit for many people, and you may even experience sleep bruxism, where it’s completely out of your control. So is there a way to manage bruxism on your own and prevent these negative impacts?
Bruxism Can Be Tied to Stress
Studies have repeatedly shown that bruxism is related to stress. One 2010 study found that daily stress and work stress are highly correlated with sleep bruxism. Another study done in 2012 found that most bruxism patients don’t have an underlying issue with their bite, which means that it’s likely the root cause of the bruxism is psychological.
You might even be experiencing bruxism and don’t know it. In fact, the American Sleep Association suggests that around 10% of adults experience sleep bruxism. Considering that each generation experiences progressively more stress than the previous generation, bruxism is likely to only get worse and more common.
To Prevent Bruxism, Treat Stress
This means that the most effective way to prevent bruxism is to prevent the stress that is most likely causing it. Of course, this is easier said than done! There are, however, a few tried and true methods for dealing with stress effectively.
First, it’s essential to get adequate sleep to relieve stress. During the phase of sleep known as short wave sleep, or SWS, the body inhibits the production of the stress hormone cortisol. If you don’t get enough sleep or don’t sleep well, you’re preventing your body from doing the necessary psychological healing that sleep facilitates. Considering that 40% of Americans get less than the recommended amount of sleep, it’s no wonder we’re so stressed out.
Exercise is also important not just for physical health, but for mental health as well. Exercise releases endorphins, which combat stress and improve mood. Studies have also shown that exercise reduces fatigue, improves focus and memory, and even enhances overall cognitive function.
An increasingly popular method of handling stress is mindfulness, a term that simply refers to the use of meditative practices to focus on the present moment and process emotions healthily. Studies have shown that mindfulness based stress reduction can reduce psychological stress by nearly 50%.
Of course, stress reduction can help prevent or reduce bruxism, but to ensure that your teeth are getting the best possible care and aren’t at risk of further damage, it’s imperative that you speak with your dentist. A dental professional can provide more concrete treatments and preventative measures, such as a night guard. When paired with at-home stress reduction efforts, your teeth can be fully protected.