"Keep a stiff upper lip" or "get a grip!" That's often the advice we get—and give—on how to cope with stress. If you take it literally, the result could be grinding your teeth or clenching your jaws. It's called bruxism, and often it happens as you sleep.
Teeth grinding can be caused not just by stress and anxiety but by sleep disorders, an abnormal bite or teeth that are missing or crooked. A study in the November 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association suggests that teeth grinding is also associated with alcohol and tobacco use. People who drink alcohol and smokers are approximately twice as likely to grind their teeth.
In a September 2020 report, the ADA Health Policy Institute found that more than half of dentists surveyed saw an increase of patients with dental conditions often associated with stress: Teeth grinding and clenching, chipped and cracked teeth, and symptoms of a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder such as jaw pain and headaches.
The symptoms of teeth grinding include:
- dull headaches
- jaw soreness
- teeth that are painful or loose
- fractured teeth
Your dentist can fit you with a mouth guard to protect your teeth during sleep. In some cases, your dentist or physician may recommend taking a muscle relaxant before bedtime. If stress is the cause you need to find a way to relax. Meditation, counseling and exercise can all help reduce stress and anxiety.
Teeth grinding is also common in children. However, because their teeth and jaws change and grow so quickly it is not usually a damaging habit that requires treatment and most outgrow it by adolescence.
Although in adults teeth grinding is often the result of stress, the same is not always true with children. Other possible causes of teeth grinding in children include:
- irritation in the mouth
- misaligned teeth
If you’re concerned about your child’s teeth grinding, ask your child’s dentist about the potential causes and, if necessary, the possible solutions.