Our mouths can experience the consequences of stress just as the rest of our bodies and our minds do. Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, is directly related to stress and can cause a variety of dental problems. If you grind your teeth, you may have experienced symptoms like earaches, neckaches, headaches, sensitive teeth, or jaw soreness. “If you find yourself grinding your teeth, it’s important to be aware of it and do what you can to stop,” says Dr. Sue Chadwick Walker, DMD, a dentist in Milwaukie, OR. “Continued teeth grinding can lead to broken, chipped or cracked teeth.”
People grind their teeth most commonly at night, but it can also happen during the day. Teeth grinding is an unconscious habit, but there are many ways to correct or even prevent this condition.
Diet and Exercise
We hear it all the time, but diet and exercise can be a driving positive or negative influence over our daily lives, including whether or not we grind our teeth. Caffeine is a stimulant that can aggravate the tendency to grind your teeth. Alcohol, while a depressant, can also trigger bruxism.
A balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats will help you feel balanced and reduce stress. Exercising in some form at least once a day can also relieve stress by releasing mood-enhancing endorphins, helping you to avoid teeth grinding during sleep.
There’s no substitution for getting a good night’s sleep. If you find that you have trouble settling down, read for awhile before falling asleep. Apply a heating pad or warm compress to your jaw, relaxing the muscles, and add the soothing smell of lavender to help you relax. If possible, go to sleep on your back, which decreases the pressure on your jaw joints and can help prevent teeth grinding.
Nurture Relaxing Moments
I used to think that “relaxing” should be the same for everyone. My mental picture was of someone in one of many yoga poses. When I tried yoga, it wasn’t necessarily relaxing the way I thought it would be. Then I thought about taking a hot bath, but in some ways that’s more stressful because the tub is small and my kids use it – I end up thinking about what they’ve left behind instead of relaxing.
For me, a relaxing moment is one where I’m laughing from deep inside my gut. When I feel stressed, even after taking care of myself with diet and exercise, nothing helps more than an extended amount of time laughing. This important lesson taught me that “relaxing” can be a variety of moments depending on each person – the only requirement is for people to figure out what it means for them and nurture those experiences.
Guard Your Smile
If you become aware that you’re grinding your teeth, consult your dentist to find out if there’s another medical condition that may be contributing to this habit. Your dentist can also check that any dental work you have isn’t contributing to the problem.
If you find that you need a mouth guard, be aware that the process of finding the right one for you is largely trial and error. Begin with the most common and inexpensive mouth guard, like the ones used by athletes. If that doesn’t work, there are dental guards that you can buy over-the-counter in drug stores. Finally, if these don’t work, check with your dentist about a professionally-made night guard that will work for you.
About the Author
Kelly Wilson is a busy mom and freelance writer who uses a professional mouth guard because she grinds her teeth. For more information about maintaining or enhancing your smile, contact Dr. Sue Chadwick Walker, DMD, a dentist in Milwaukie, OR.