Here's How To Handle Stress-Induced Teeth Grinding And Jaw Clenching

When the pandemic started, many people were left to face a future of the unknown. As the virus spread and people went into lockdown or isolation, stress may have increased for many individuals. According to Mayo Clinic, social, economic, and lifestyle disruptions led to an increase in anxiety, stress, fatigue, depression, brain fog, and more. You may feel sad, hopeless, or angry when faced with challenging situations such as this. As these symptoms carry on for long periods of time, each person has their own way of coping.

As a response to this newfound stress and anxiety during the pandemic, some people turned to other substances, such as drugs and alcohol, to help them cope with it. Other coping mechanisms may appear in smaller ways, such as teeth grinding and jaw clenching. This is often a subconscious response because you may not notice it until later or at all. "During the pandemic, everyone was home anxious, stressed, and they were clenching a lot more," Dr. Sharon Huang tells Allure. Dr. Victoria Veytsman D.D.S. tells Allure that as people started coming back in for dental care again, she began to notice more issues with "aesthetic concerns" for the patient's teeth appearance. Fractures or damaged fillings were some conditions that she saw worsen as a result of teeth grinding and jaw clenching.

What is teeth grinding and jaw clenching?

The condition in which you grind, gnash, or clench your teeth is known as Bruxism, and it can happen while you're awake or as you sleep. If it happens in your sleep, it is often connected to a sleep-related disorder and harder to spot right away. Doing so in the daytime makes it easier to recognize quicker, and that is when it may be a response to stress or anxiety. This may be when it is easier to stop yourself once you become aware of it. Symptoms of Bruxism include headaches, facial pain in the morning, loose teeth, teeth fractures, sore jaw muscles, wear on teeth, painful eating, jaw locking or popping, and possibly disrupted sleep (via Cleveland Clinic).

According to The Bruxism Association, about 70% of adults say their teeth grinding and jaw clenching were connected to stress and anxiety. Additionally, it is more prevalent in those who consume caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco. While there is no direct treatment to cure Bruxism, there are many ways to manage it and take preventative measures.

What you can do?

Mayo Clinic suggests maintaining a regular routine, designating time for what is important and time for activities you enjoy. Sticking to a routine helps ease your mind by making you feel more in control. Additionally, participating in regular physical activity can also be especially helpful as exercise helps reduce anxiety and improve your mood. Keeping yourself busy and active and tapping into more positive thoughts can help distract you away from the negative cycle of thoughts. Limit more of what may cause stress or anxiety and take time to do things that will help you relax and recharge. 

If you begin to notice yourself grinding or clenching your teeth, that's the best time to catch it and make a conscious effort to stop yourself. Mouthguards can also be helpful during the day or while you sleep. Dental health expert Dr. Dena Fischer tells News In Health that giving yourself reminders may be a way to stop it as well. "An alarm or sticky note can be used as a reminder to make sure that your teeth are apart," Dr. Fischer says. "Tell yourself 'lips apart and teeth apart' to help make sure clenching isn't occurring." It is especially important to consult with a dentist about the potential damage the grinding and clenching may have caused to determine the best treatment moving forward.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.