Is Stress Affecting Your Oral Health?

COVID-19 is on the forefront of everyone’s minds these days.  Have you ever wondered, however, how COVID-19 may be affecting your oral health?  One of the biggest correlations many dentists are seeing which may be the result of the extra stress some of their dental patients are feeling during these challenging times is what some dentists are referring to as the “COVID clench”, or bruxism.  Bruxism includes grinding, clenching and gnashing your teeth.

Teeth clenching and grinding, or bruxism, can cause serious damage to your teeth and jaw. Grinding and clenching usually occurs while sleeping, although some people clench their teeth while they are awake.  Whether the teeth grinding and clenching occurs during sleep or while awake, many patients report that they are not aware that they are grinding or clenching their teeth.  Grinding and clencing your teeth is most often related to stress, but can it also be related to other medical disorders and lifestyle issues.  Teeth grinding and clenching is not limited to adults.  Children can also exhibit signs of grinding or clenching their teeth, and this should be watched for.

Because many people are not aware that they suffer from bruxism because it often occurs while sleeping, it is important to be aware of any signs that you may be grinding and/or clenching your teeth.  These signs may include the following:

  • visible teeth wear, which could include fractured teeth, chipped teeth, flat teeth and even loose teeth
  • headaches, often starting in the temple areas
  • muscle and jaw pain, often a chronic, dull ache
  • increased tooth pain or sensitivity
  • ear pain, although the cause is not ear related
  • fractured teeth
  • sleep disruption
  • worn teeth enamel, exposing the deeper layers of the teeth

In addition to stress, there can other causes of bruxism which should be assessed by your dentist or physician.  These causes may include:

  • Age: Dentists often seen bruxism in young children. Fortunately, this usually disappears in the child by by adulthood.
  • Medications: According to the Mayo Clinic, bruxism may be a side effect, albeit an uncommon one, of some psychiatric medications, including some antidepressants.  It is also though that smoking tobacco, drinking caffeinated beverages or alcohol or using recreational drugs, can possibly increase the risk of bruxism.
  • Family members: If you have a family member with sleep bruxism, you may be at increased risk for bruxism, as sleep bruxism tends to run in families.
  • Other medical issues:  There appears to be a correlation with bruxism and other mental health and medical disorders, including Parkinson's disease, dementia, gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), epilepsy, night terrors, sleep-related disorders such as sleep apnea, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Mayo Clinic).

The treatment for bruxism varies depending upon several factors, including the patient and the cause of the teeth grinding or clenching. Mild bruxism may not have to be treated, but your dentist should first conduct an examination to determine that the bruxism is not creating any issues with your teeth or jaw.  For moderate to severe bruxism, often our Calgary dentist, Dr. Dirk Thompson, finds that his patients respond favourably to a custom bruxism appliance that is worn while you sleep.  The appliance can also be worn during the day if you notice that the grinding and clenching occurs while you are awake.  This appliance will protect your teeth and helps to alleviate any related symptoms you may be experiencing.  

Although teeth grinding and clenching is not usually a dental emergency, it should not be ignored as it may lead to other larger and more significant dental and health issues.  If you think you may be experiencing grinding or clenching your teeth, please call our Calgary dental office today at 403.283.4252  for more information and to schedule your appointment with our general Calgary dentist, Dr. Dirk Thompson.

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