Many parents are feeling the weight of the unknowns associated with the upcoming school year. With so many details still up in the air, parents are experiencing increased levels of anxiety and stress, both of which can cause tangible effects on physical health.
One condition that is common with increased stress is teeth grinding, also known as bruxism. According to the American Dental Association, 10 to 15 percent of American adults grind their teeth. However, a recent article from the Miami Herald noted dentists reporting a 30 to 40 percent increase in bruxism in recent months - which they theorize is due in part to COVID-19. While teeth grinding is often mild, causing poor sleep or jaw or headaches, it can also present itself more severely – resulting in significant jaw pain and popping, TMJ Syndrome and even tooth fractures.
Dr. Berdy, from Berdy Dental Group, joined the News4Jax Morning Show team to discuss more in-depth why we grind our teeth, plus the symptoms and treatments for this condition.
How Increased Stress Relates to Teeth Grinding
When we experience a moment of stress, our bodies involuntarily react to make sure we are alert and ready to respond to danger. However, when that response is extended due to a constant state of stress, our bodies can’t help but experience negative effects.
One of the most common of these signs is clenched muscles - ultimately what causes teeth grinding. When we feel tense, our jaws clench shut and those muscles tighten, often without us realizing. While teeth grinding, or bruxism, most often happens when people are sleeping, it can also occur subconsciously throughout the day.
Dentists have noted an increase in bruxism in recent months, which many suggest is a direct correlation to our current climate with the pandemic. COVID-19 has shifted more aspects of life than anyone could have expected or prepared for, so it’s no surprise that people are currently experiencing more stress and anxiety.
While the concerns regarding the pandemic are still present, the upcoming school year may cause even higher numbers of bruxism. According to the American Psychological Association, 71 percent of parents said managing online learning is a “significant source of stress.”
The Most Common Symptoms of Teeth Grinding
The most common, and one of the clearest signs that someone grinds their teeth are frequent tension headaches. A study from the Bruxism Association notes that people who have bruxism are three times more likely to experience headaches.
Other mild symptoms of teeth grinding include:
- Soreness or pain in the jaw, neck or face
- Discomfort near your ear that feels similar to an earache
- Disrupted sleep for you and your partner if the grinding is loud enough to wake them, too
Some of the more severe symptoms of this condition we sometimes see at Berdy Dental Group are:
- Flattened, loose or chipped teeth
- Worn down tooth enamel
- Significant tooth pain and sensitivity
- Jaw popping that can lead to TMJ
Advice and Treatment Recommendations
The best way to correct teeth grinding is to fit patients with mouth guards. While bruxism is most common while people are sleeping, it can still happen throughout the day, so our practice offers guards for both day and nighttime use. These protect your teeth from rubbing together and can help significantly relieve pain.
For those who often clench their jaw while they are awake during the day, we also recommend setting reminders for yourself to consciously relax those muscles. Bruxism occurs so subconsciously, so it takes a cognizant effort to stop it in its tracks.
Jaw clenching can become so constant for some patients, they may no longer know how to truly relax their mouths, so a simple exercise to practice is to try licking your lips as often as you can. When you do this, you jaw must open and can no longer be clenched together.
Because teeth grinding stems so much from stress, practicing relaxation or mediation techniques can help, too. Especially in these uncertain times, managing stress can often be easier said than done, but taking a few minutes of the day to relax your muscles and quiet your mind can make such a significant difference in both mental and physical health.