Is Stress Sabotaging Your Smile? The Short Answer Is Yes
Stress is no good for your mind, body, or skin (see all the ways stress shows on your face here) and it turns out it can have surprisingly negative effects on your smile, too. Ahead, cosmetic dentists Dr. Brian Kantor and Dr. Marc Lowenberg of Lowenberg, Lituchy, & Kantor in New York City weigh in on exactly how stress affects your smile, plus what you can do about it.
At the root of the matter: Teeth grinding and/or jaw clenching. Technically known as bruxism, it’s when you clench your teeth and jaw or slide your teeth back-and-forth over one another. It most often occurs unconsciously when you’re sleeping, often as a sign of stress or anxiety. While it’s not necessarily dangerous, it can have some pretty nasty side effects. “Both clenching and grinding can cause the enamel and dentin — the first two layers of the tooth — to wear away,” explains Dr. Kantor.
This impacts both the health of your teeth and your looks, too. “Excessive clenching and grinding can lead to root canals and even cause the teeth to become so worn away that the bite can collapse,” points out Dr. Lowenberg. Not only is that no good for your oral health, but also can create the look of more wrinkles around your mouth, he adds. Clenching your jaw exacerbates marionette lines while pursing your lips leads to those little bar code lines around your mouth.
A few signs you may be grinding while you snooze? Waking up with pain in your TMJ, the joint in front of your ears and clicking when you open your mouth, says Dr. Lowenberg. Headaches and jaw pain are also tell-tale indicators. Your dentist will also be able to tell simply by looking at your teeth.
To prevent teeth grinding, figuring out why you’re stressed and reducing said stress is obviously your best move. Also, try to be conscious of the facial expressions you make when stressed. Fun fact: One study showed that holding a smile during periods of stress actually increases your ability to recover from stressful episodes. Sounds strange, sure, but it's a worth a shot.
But if that’s not entirely feasible (because, hey, real life) the best thing you can do is to sleep with a night guard, which will prevent further damage, says Dr. Lowenberg. While you can find them OTC, getting a custom-fit for one at the dentist will ensure a more comfortable fit, which likely will make you more apt to actually wear it. Plus, there are also many different types of nightguards and how exactly you grind your teeth will determine which is best for you, adds Dr. Kantor, and only a dentist can tell you that.
Another solution: Botox injections. Yep, the same stuff that smooths forehead wrinkles and crow’s feet can help here. Injecting the neurotoxin into the mastication muscles (the jaw muscles used when you grind) can both help relieve pain and reduce grinding in the long run, explains Dr. Kantor. The same principle applies here as it does when it’s used for cosmetic purposes; the Botox paralyzes the muscles so you can longer grind and clench.
Just keep in mind that you’ll need more Botox than you would when treating wrinkles in the face (translation: it can get costly), and it can take up to four weeks to fully kick in and see results, given the size and strength of these muscles.
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