Stressed out? You may be grinding your teeth

Stressed out? You may be grinding your teeth


CHICAGO—About 95 percent of American adults grind their teeth at some point during their lives, but the majority goes undiagnosed, says a pioneer in the field. The result is that many tolerate pain and dental problems that dentists can treat successfully.

Terry Tanaka, DDS, clinical professor at the University of Southern California School of Dentistry, says that in addition to causing chronic facial pain and muscle fatigue, bruxism, or teeth-grinding, can wear down tooth enamel and most dental restoration, and can even cause teeth to become loose. Most bruxing occurs at night while people are asleep.

“When people brux, they often wake up with some very sore and tired facial muscles,” said Dr. Tanaka in an interview with Dentistry Today. “That is a very good clue to them that they brux and should have a dentist do a thorough examination to diagnose the cause of their pain.”

Dr. Tanaka said that more research is needed to determine the exact mechanisms that cause bruxism and jaw clenching, but it is believed that emotional and physical factors are involved. Stress and sleep disorders also are believed to be contributors.

To relax clenching muscles, dentists recommend applying warm washcloths on the side of the face. To help relieve stress, they recommend advice such as cutting down on caffeine or getting exercise. Custom-fitted mouthguards made by dentists worn at night prevent grinding.

Dr. Tanaka said that one potential problem in the huge boom of esthetic dentistry is that many tooth-colored materials used for fillings cannot withstand the unremitting pressure that can occur when a patient bruxes through the night. “The esthetic materials used now are better than ever,” he said, “but there needs to be consideration of bruxism and clenching in what materials dentists choose to use.”

Dr. Tanaka advises patients who want esthetic restorations but who grind and clench their teeth to allow their dentists to determine the best material after a thorough consultation.

“In most cases,” he said, “the severity of the bruxism problem will help determine the type of material that will provide the strongest and longest-lasting esthetic restoration.”

Dr. Tanaka agreed that future generations of esthetic materials will withstand pressure from bruxism but that the issues underlying teeth grinding still need to be treated effectively for the overall health of the body.

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