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Stress and Bruxism: How To Stop Teeth Grinding

6 min read
by JS Dental Lab |

Whether you want it to or not, life can move pretty fast. Deadlines at work, issues at home, worries about money, maybe even some health problems—they all seem to crop up at once! If you’re feeling stressed and anxious, you’re not alone; eight in ten Americans feel the same way.

You might not realize it, but these emotions often reveal themselves in your behavior. In some cases, they come out as conscious decisions. You might find yourself occasionally making an impulse buy or having a few drinks to relieve some tension. But other times, stress shows itself through unconscious behaviors—like grinding your teeth—that can impact both your resting and waking hours.

Here’s a handy guide about how stress and teeth grinding are related—along with some tips to help you overcome your own stress-related grinding and get a better night’s rest.

Why do you grind your teeth?

You may not be sure why you wake up in the morning with a sore jaw and neck. Or why you move through the day with a dull headache and lingering tooth pain. It could be the result of sleep bruxism—commonly known as teeth grinding.

Many people don’t realize they’re grinding their teeth at night until their partner—the person who’s jostled from sleep in the middle of the night by the sound of teeth grating against one another—tells them about it. In other cases, it might take a trip to the dentist to shine some light on the issue. Your dentist might find your teeth chipped, flattened, fractured, or loosened, with evidence of enamel being worn away—all signs of bruxism.

The cause of bruxism isn’t completely understood, but doctors believe it could be the result of any one of a number of factors, including family history or health conditions like Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, or sleep apnea. And yes, even stress.

How does stress lead to teeth grinding?

It’s odd to consider, but grinding your teeth might be your body’s natural attempt at combating stress. When your brain receives impressions from your environment that it interprets as a stressor —whether physical, emotional, or psychological—it releases adrenaline to help you face them.

Historically, your ancestors used these floods of adrenaline to fuel their “fight or flight” response when it came to hunting for food, warding off threats, or fighting for survival. You encounter stressors today that are quite different from those your ancestors faced, but your body’s response hasn’t changed.

Your boss is breathing down your neck about that report he wants you to finish. Your mechanic tells you that repair is going to cost more than he initially thought. These stressors push your body toward an adrenaline-fueled “fight or flight” response—without the release of running or fighting. But that pent-up adrenaline still has to go somewhere.

In certain instances, an aggressive sigh might be all your body needs to expend that extra fuel. In other cases, it may burn off adrenaline by increasing your unconscious muscle activity—in the form of a clenched jaw or grinding teeth.

In moderation, this approach to stress relief isn’t all that bad. It allows your body to use up its extra energy. But if your stress-related bruxism becomes chronic, or if it happens when you’re sleeping so you have no way to actively stop it, you might want to consider taking action.

So what can you do to conquer stress and reduce grinding?

The last thing you want to do to overcome stress is turn to unhealthy habits—like smoking cigarettes or increasing the amount of alcohol or caffeine you drink. While these things might feel like they’re calming you down, they can actually have a negative influence on your sleep habits. Poor sleep can lead to more stress, which can lead to more grinding, which further affects your sleep—and the cycle continues.

Whether your stressors cause you to grind and clench when you’re asleep or awake, learning to overcome them in a healthy way may do wonders to help relieve your bruxism. To tackle your teeth grinding where it starts, and regain your restful nights, there are a number of useful stress management and relief techniques you can try.

You might consider committing to a daily exercise routine. Walking. Running. Lifting weights. Swimming. Whatever you like best, make it part of your everyday life. Exercise doesn’t just burn off excess energy—it also increases your body’s endorphin levels (those chemicals that trigger feelings of positivity and pleasure). It can also boost your self-confidence, help you sleep better, and give your mind a way to forget about those things that are worrying you for a little while.

You’ve probably heard about the benefits of meditation, too. Taking as little as 10 minutes each day to sit quietly can have a wonderfully positive impact on your stress levels. There are many different forms of mediation you can try, including relaxation responses, guided practices, mindfulness meditation, and breathing exercises. And if you can take your meditation practice outdoors, even better! Sunshine and fresh air have been shown to help relax the mind and lower the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in your blood.

You can also lower your cortisol levels by listening to music. So whether you prefer some soothing nature sounds, a classical concerto, or some heavy rock n’ roll, plug in those ear buds and turn up the volume. Your body will thank you.

Writing down your thoughts is a great approach to stress relief as well. In a journal. On your cell phone. On a piece of scrap paper. Wherever you choose to do it, jotting down the things that are pinballing around in your head serves as an emotional outlet. Not only does it get your thoughts out of your head, it’s a great way to organize them and begin working toward a positive solution.

Spending time with a pet is another way to help reduce stress and anxiety. Rolling around with a pup, cuddling with a kitten, or petting a bunny is a form of social support that can boost self-confidence and esteem. And honestly, how can playing with a furry friend not make you smile? Incidentally, smiling (even when you don’t feel like it) can have a direct impact on your mood.

Massage has been shown to relieve stress, too. It helps promote the production of serotonin, the chemical that helps ward off depression, while lowering your heart rate and blood pressure. Whether you book an appointment with a masseuse or practice self-massage, a good rub down every so often is a great way to relax and reduce stress. Optimize your stress-relief by lighting a scented candle and enjoying the soothing benefits of aromatherapy. Common scents to try include lavender, rose, and sandalwood, but make sure you choose one that’s most appealing and calming to you.

You can also combine the stress-relieving benefits of aromatherapy with those of heat by infusing a warm bath with essential oils. Not only do you get the relaxing effects of the aromatic oils, but your muscles can also unwind in the warm water. If you’re not able to take a bath, don’t worry. You can wrap a heating pad or warm washcloth around your neck and shoulders and find the same relaxation and stress reduction.

There might be times when a visit with a counselor or therapist is the right call to help you overcome your stressors. These trained professionals can help you make sense of the things that are troubling you—and teach you some positive ways to address them. Approaches like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy help you adjust your thought patterns and ultimately change the way you internalize and react to those pressures that lead to stress.

In some cases, your doctor may recommend antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication to help you manage stress. While medications are an option, it’s important to have a frank and open discussion about them with your doctor. They’ll be able to educate you on their potential side effects and hazards—and help make sure you’re using them in the way they’re intended.

Keep your teeth safe as you overcome stress

You’ve decided to make some stress-relieving techniques part of your daily routine. That’s great! But change doesn’t happen overnight. It may take some time to see the full benefits of your new, healthy habits—and the elimination of your bruxism. To help keep your teeth safe during this transition, you may want to consider a cost-effective custom night guard from JS Dental Lab. To find out if a night guard is the right choice for you, contact us today.

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