Cringe ? How to stop stress-induced bruxism

If you suffer from stress or anxiety, you may also suffer from jaw pain: the two often go hand in hand. The pain is caused by grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw during the day (and night), and you probably don’t even realize you’re doing it.

I know this because it happened to me: my partner heard my teeth grinding against each other one night while I was sleeping, and it was so loud that it woke him up. Although embarrassed, I was relieved to discover that I am not alone in my unconscious, stress-induced teeth grinding. This phenomenon is so common that it has a name: bruxism. It is an unintentional act and finding a solution is not as easy as you might think.

Why do I grind my teeth?

As mentioned earlier, bruxism is quite common. In fact, “it is estimated that it affects between 10 and 20% of the world’s population,” explains Dr. Simón Pardiñas López, oral surgeon, periodontist, science communicator and director of the Pardiñas Clinic. He states that the main causes of bruxism are related to muscular tension produced by stress or anxiety, as well as other psychological states such as anger and frustration.

“The high pace of life that we lead triggers many stressful situations,” explains Dr. Nadia Sarmini, director and owner of the Bernabéu Dental Clinic, who adds that stressful situations can lead us to develop unconscious habits like clenching our teeth or biting our nails – and they can even show up when we’re not awake. “Poor quality sleep due to stress can lead to a higher incidence of bruxism. During certain phases of sleep, the body can enter states of semi-consciousness in which motor acts, such as clenching the teeth, are more frequent,” explains Pardiñas.

Although stress is one of the biggest contributors to this unwanted unconscious habit, it can also be caused by dental malocclusion (poor alignment of the teeth when biting) or other misalignments.

Day versus night

There are two types of bruxism: daytime and nighttime. “Daytime occurs during waking hours and is usually more directly related to stress, anxiety, intense concentration or certain postural habits,” says Pardiñas. It usually causes jaw pain or facial muscle fatigue, especially at the end of the day. “There may be less tooth wear than nighttime bruxism because the person may be more aware of their behavior and able to control it.”