Many of us have nervous habits we aren’t even aware of unless someone points them out. These habits are often an unconscious way of releasing stress and anxiety. Sometimes, though, these nervous tics can lead to other health issues. Bruxism (teeth grinding) or jaw clenching are two examples.
Not long after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, dentists began reporting seeing more stress-related oral health conditions. According to the American Dental Association, almost 70% of dentists polled said they saw an increase in patients grinding and clenching their teeth, and 63% said they saw more patients with chipped and cracked teeth, all conditions often associated with stress.
In addition to cracked teeth, teeth grinding can cause hypersensitive teeth, aching jaw muscles, headaches, changes in your bite, tooth wear and even damage to crowns and fillings.
There are two main types of bruxism: one occurs during sleep (nocturnal bruxism) and one during wakefulness (awake bruxism). People who clench or grind their teeth during sleep are more likely to have other sleep disorders, such as snoring and pauses in breathing (sleep apnea).
Signs you grind your teeth
If you experience any of the symptoms below, you should make an appointment with your dentist.
- Teeth grinding or clenching, which may be loud enough to wake up your sleep partner
- Teeth that are flattened, fractured, chipped or loose
- Worn tooth enamel, exposing deeper layers of your tooth
- Increased tooth pain or sensitivity
- Tired or tight jaw muscles, or a locked jaw that won’t open or close completely
- Jaw, neck, or face pain or soreness
- Pain that feels like an earache, though it’s actually not a problem with your ear
- Dull headache starting in the temples
- Damage from chewing on the inside of your cheek
Mild bruxism may not require treatment. Your dentist may create a custom-fitted mouthguard that will protect your teeth while you sleep. Your dentist may also encourage you to find ways to relieve stress throughout the day and relax your jaw muscles before bed. If medical problems exist, they also need to be treated. Your dentist is the best person to guide you.
If you know or suspect you may be grinding your teeth, make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. The sooner you treat the problem, the better your chances of avoiding more costly services, such as repairing or replacing cracked teeth.