Are you a nervous person? Do you bite your nails or grind your teeth when you’re in stressful situations. You’re not alone, but you may be causing long-term harm to your teeth. Recently, Tel Aviv University research found that social anxiety and other anxiety disorders can increase the risk of bruxism (tooth grinding), tooth erosion, and jaw pain.
AVOID THE GRIND
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders affect approximately one in six adult Americans. The most well-known of these include panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and social anxiety disorder. But what of brief bouts of anxiety caused by stressful social situations?
A new study by Tel Aviv University researchers, published recently in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation, finds that anxiety experienced in social circumstances elevates the risk of bruxism, which causes tooth wear and fractures as well as jaw pain. According to the research, led by Dr. Ephraim Winocur of the Department of Oral Rehabilitation at TAU’s School of Dental Medicine, interaction with people is likely to trigger bruxism in the socially anxious.
“This is not a dental problem, but one with clear dental consequences,” said Dr. Winocur. “If we are aware, then we can bring it into consciousness. Psychiatrists can identify patients predisposed to bruxism and can try to help prevent it, and dental experts will immediately know what to treat.”
The researchers assessed 75 men and women in their early 30s using questionnaires. One group of 40 people had social phobia, characterized by excessive fear in social situations. Just under half of the group members were on antidepressant drugs. A control group of 35 did not have social phobia. All the subjects underwent psychiatric and dental exams. Bruxism symptoms and oral habits, such as gum chewing, nail biting, and small jaw movements with no tooth contact (“jaw play”), were all assessed.
Although antidepressant drugs have previously been linked to bruxism, this study found no association. However, moderate-to-severe dental wear was found in 42.1% of the social phobia subjects and 28.6% of controls. The rate of jaw play was 32.5% in the phobia group and 12.1% in controls. Symptoms of awake bruxism were reported by 42.5% of social phobia patients and by 3% of controls.
“Interaction with people seems to be necessary to trigger bruxism in socially anxious people,” said Dr. Winocur. “By treating social anxiety, we will be able to treat bruxism as well.” Dr. Winocur is currently researching the effect of post-traumatic stress disorders on sleep and awake bruxism.
BE KIND, DON’T GRIND
If stress is causing you to grind your teeth, you can ask your doctor or dentist about options to reduce your stress. Attending stress counseling, starting an exercise program, seeing a physical therapist, or obtaining a prescription for muscle relaxants are among some of the options that may be offered.
Other tips to help you stop teeth grinding include:
- Avoid or cut back on foods and drinks that contain caffeine, such as colas, chocolate, and coffee.
- Avoid alcohol. Grinding tends to intensify after alcohol consumption.
- Do not chew on pencils or pens or anything that is not food. Avoid chewing gum as it allows your jaw muscles to get more used to clenching and makes you more likely to grind your teeth.
- Train yourself not to clench or grind your teeth. If you notice that you clench or grind during the day, position the tip of your tongue between your teeth. This practice trains your jaw muscles to relax.
Remember, once you wear down your teeth, you can’t grow them back. So be aware of bruxism and preserve your smile!