Author: Mayoor Patel, DDS, MS

We’ve all been there before, just as our patients have too. Stress and anxiety is a common occurrence in today’s society, but what does that have to do with dentists? Well, interesting enough, stress and anxiety can lead to patients grinding their teeth. That’s right; stress and anxiety are the biggest factors in whether a person will grind their teeth–during the day.

About one out of four people grind their teeth to where they are causing damage to their teeth or jaw. Most people grind their teeth to some degree. In doing so, it can lead to headaches, soreness in the jaw, and damage to the teeth, which is what we are looking to prevent. It’s important to learn more about teeth grinding and it’s various triggers in order to mitigate the potential dental health risk it poses.

What is it About Stress?

When a person is stressed, their sympathetic nervous system becomes active. This is where the “fight or flight” response comes into play. Due to this, a person’s immune and digestive systems can be affected. If a person is chronically stressed, it can shut down those bodily functions, causing their body to not work the way it should. This is what happens when people grind their teeth in their sleep–the action is involuntary. Remember, if your patient is suffering from an undiagnosed sleep breathing disorder, it itself is a stressor to their body while sleeping. Just like stress, not being able to breathe also activates their sympathetic nervous system.

Most people do not know they grind their teeth because it occurs at nighttime. The only reason they will know they do is if their bed partner tells them or the dentist notices damage to their teeth.

What Can Patients Do?

If a patient is stressed, the best thing they can do is to try to look at the situation in a different light. They should also try to find an avenue of release from the situation. For some, this means using cannabis occasionally, as there are many dispensary supplies available that can cater to the individual’s preferences. By understanding that stress is causing harm to their body, they can take steps toward improving the outcome. Perceiving that something is happening, but there are no resources available to help, then control is lost, and the person will be going into distress. Help your patients understand the resources they need to control the situation and improve their stress.

What Can Dentists Do to Help?

Aside from your patients looking for ways to control the situation, we can help if damage is occurring or even before the damage occurs. Suspecting that your patients are not breathing well at night requires a referral to a medical colleague for diagnosis. The best way to physically reduce grinding is with a night guard or an airway appliance if indicated by diagnosis custom-made for the patient. In providing this for them, they may prevent the side effects of stress and teeth grinding.

Pay attention to your patients’ teeth and any signs of stress or teeth grinding. By catching signs and symptoms early, we can provide advanced care to better protect their teeth from further damage or harm. A patient might not tell you that they’re stressed, but their teeth will.