Bruxism is one of the most common dental disorders in the U.S. Today, about 10% of American adults and 15% of children suffer from bruxism. In people with a family history of the disease, about 50% of people have bruxism. While bruxism has many causes, one of the most common is stress.
Unfortunately for many people, that can make bruxism seem challenging to treat and virtually impossible to get rid of. After all, how do we limit stress in our fast-paced lives? How do we stop doing something we don’t even know we’re doing?
Fortunately, there are answers. Here’s a breakdown of a few of our favorite tactics for diminishing stress and getting rid of your bruxism:
The Connection Between Bruxism and Stress
The link between bruxism and stress has long been proved by science. According to one 2011 study published by the National Institute on Aging, bruxism occurs in much higher rates in people with anxiety and depression than people with lower stress levels. According to the study:
“The grinding of teeth has long been held as one physical manifestation of stress and anxiety. For example, individuals who grind their teeth tend to report more symptoms of anxiety and depression than non-bruxers. And, compared to non-bruxers, those who grind their teeth tend to report greater life stress and are more likely to suffer from DSM-defined depression and anxiety disorders. Even in rats, experimentally inducing emotional stress leads to brux-like symptoms, compared to controls.”
In a separate study, conducted by German researchers, study participants volunteered to help identify a link between bruxism and stress. Within the study, 69 people, including 48 known bruxers, were issued a questionnaire to see if they reported “daily problems, trouble at work, fatigue, or physical problems.”
Each participant was between 20 and 40 years old and had a sleeping partner that reported grinding sounds during the night over the past six months. Participants also reported one or more bruxism symptoms before the study, including muscle fatigue or pain on awakening, abnormal tooth wear or shiny spots on restorations and enlarged jaw muscles.
Researchers concluded that participants with high sleep bruxing activity tend to feel more stressed at work and in their daily life, and, according to the questionnaire, seem to deal with stress negatively. Bruxism is a dangerous dental problem that can not only wear down teeth but also make them sensitive or loose or even fracture them. Besides worn tooth surfaces, symptoms can include headaches and a sore jaw.
As you can see, the connection between bruxism and anxiety is well-documented. If you’ve been suffering from tooth grinding, then, the apparent first step toward treatment is to lower your stress and bring more relaxation into your life.
5 Tips to Lower Your Stress Levels
Reducing the stress levels in your life serves several vital purposes. In addition to helping you treat your bruxism and keep your teeth healthy, it’s also a great way to make your life more pleasant and relaxing, and lower your risk of depression, cancer, and other stress-related chronic diseases. Here are a few of our favorite tips for reducing stress:
1. Get Enough Exercise
Exercise is one of the most effective methods for battling stress. There are a few primary reasons for this.
- Exercise limits stress hormones. It may seem counterintuitive that putting your body through stress can decrease your body’s stress hormones, but it’s true. Exercise helps release endorphins, improve your mood, and serve as natural painkillers.
- Exercise improves sleep quality. Sleep is the first thing to go when you feel stressed or anxious. Fortunately, ample exercise can help restore healthy sleep. By contributing to a night of deeper sleep, it may also help diminish your bruxism naturally.
- Better state of mind. Exercise helps you process stress and organize your days more efficiently. By improving your mental health, it can go a long way toward boosting your daily outlook.
Never been a big fan of exercise? You don’t have to join a CrossFit gym right away. Instead, start walking, try a yoga class, or go hiking with friends.
2. Supplement for Your Health
Diet and supplementation can go a long way to decrease your daily stress and anxiety. If you feel like your bruxism has recently gotten worse, consider supplementing with a system-soothing compound like the following:
- Ashwagandha. Used throughout Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha has long been used to treat stress and anxiety. It soothes the nervous system and can help the whole body take a deep breath.
- Valerian. Valerian root is a favorite sleep aid among people who have trouble getting enough Zs but don’t want to use harsh medicines. Valerian contains valerenic acid, which alters gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors and helps minimize anxiety.
- Green tea. Instead of dosing on coffee every day, swap a cup out for some green tea. Green tea contains polyphenol antioxidants, which can boost serotonin levels and decrease anxiety.
3. Practice Meditation
Meditation is becoming more popular in the mainstream, and for a good reason. Studies show that even a few minutes of meditation a day can have a profound impact on stress in as little as eight weeks of practice. If you’re nervous to start meditation, begin with a simple app like Headspace, which features beginner-friendly guided meditations that last 5, 10, or 20 minutes and are easy to incorporate into your daily life.
See Your Dentist if Bruxism Continues
There are dozens of things you can do to limit your stress levels every day. Simple steps like incorporating more exercise, starting a meditation practice, and focusing on a healthy diet and supplementation can go a long way. If your bruxism continues despite these stress-reduction methods, though, it might be time to visit your dentist.
Your dentist will be able to make a recommendation about additional treatment options, ranging from a mouth guard to dental alignment and more, all of which can help you be more comfortable while also protecting the surface of your teeth.
Ready to put an end to your bruxism? Contact our team today.
Dr. Felicity is a National Board Certified Dentist and a Longtime resident of Charleston.