Is stress causing you to grind your teeth? Here are four ways to stop it

Worried you might be grinding your teeth at night? Learn how to spot the signs, and four ways you can stop.

Tooth grinding is one of the most under-diagnosed symptoms of stress, affecting around 15% of adults. Women are slightly more likely to grind their teeth than men, and those who juggle careers with parenthood are at particularly high risk.

So if you’re a working mum, you’re probably in a high risk category for teeth grinding!

However, as the majority of tooth grinding occurs when we are asleep, most of us are unaware that we are grinding our teeth.

The most common symptom of tooth grinding is headaches. As the main cause of tooth grinding is stress, and having headaches can contribute further to stress, undiagnosed tooth grinding can lead people down a vicious cycle where the effects of tooth grinding only amplify its cause.

So how can you tell if you’re a tooth grinder at night?

How to tell if you’re grinding your teeth

Tooth grinding can be self-diagnosed. The most obvious symptom of tooth grinding is regular headaches, particularly early in the morning. These headaches are due to the fact that grinding your teeth against each other puts a lot of strain on the small muscles in your jaw.

As the majority of tooth grinding occurs at night, this strain is usually felt immediately after waking and then slowly fades away during the day.

So if you regularly have headaches in the morning, and the pain is particularly being felt on the sides of your head around your temple, you could be grinding your teeth at night.

A second sign of tooth grinding is that you make loud cracking, or popping noises at night. This noise comes from your teeth grinding against each other.

Although you will not be able to hear those noises while you are asleep, if your partner, or someone sleeping in a room near you complains of such noises, it may well be a sign of tooth grinding.

Grinding your teeth also wears your teeth down. Therefore, if you believe that you may grind your teeth at night, speak to your dentist about it and they should be able to see if there is any visible wear to your teeth.

Four ways you can help to prevent tooth grinding

So if you ARE grinding your teeth at night, how can you stop? Here are four suggestions to help you try.

1) Reduce your stress levels

As stress is the main cause of tooth grinding, reducing your stress levels should help to reduce the amount that you grind your teeth.

As the causes of stress are different from person to person, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to managing stress.

That being said, mindfulness can be a particularly effective way of managing stress for those who grind their teeth. This is because mindfulness can not only reduce stress, but it can also make you more aware of the tension in your body.

We recommend reading these articles to help you manage your stress:

2) Be mindful of tension in your jaw

Tooth grinding occurs when there is tension in your jaw. And, while the majority of tooth grinding may happen at night, when you are asleep, if you grind your teeth at night, you are more likely to carry tension in your jaw during the day.

So being mindful of any tension in your jaw during the day, and actively trying to reduce it, can go a long way to reducing the amount that you grind your teeth – both during the day and at night.

3) Take magnesium supplements

Magnesium supplements can help reduce the amount that you grind your teeth as it helps with control of fast twitch muscle reflexes.

Tiny spasms in the fast twitch muscles in your jaw are what cause involuntary grinding at night. Magnesium supplements can help eliminate this. Magnesium is so effective at reducing muscle spasms that it is sometimes used as part of a wider treatment for Parkinson’s Disease.

4) Use a sleeping appliance

Sleeping appliances are specially made acrylic mouth guards that you wear at night in bed. They are thin enough to not obstruct your breathing or make sleep more difficult due to discomfort.

Sleeping appliances are the most effective way of managing tooth grinding, but also the most invasive. They are therefore best for when trying to reduce stress and magnesium supplements are not effectively reducing the amount that you grind your teeth.

These sleeping appliances are professionally made and custom fitted by a dentist. They work by creating a comfortable, natural biting surface for your teeth. This reduces the reflexive urge to grind your teeth against each other.

The acrylic also acts as a shock absorber, protecting your teeth, and the muscles in your jaw from any damage that is done by grinding.

What are the effects of long term tooth grinding?

If left untreated, tooth grinding can have severe long-term effects on the health of your teeth.

Tooth grinding gradually wears down your enamel. This makes your teeth weaker and more likely to chip or crack. It also makes your teeth less resistant to cavities. Chips, cracks and cavities usually require fillings and crowns to fix.

Tooth grinding can also make your teeth smaller, and they’re edges less well defined. This is generally considered cosmetically displeasing, and often people who go for years with undiagnosed tooth grinding want veneers to increase the length of their teeth back to their natural size.

This is why it’s so important to try to manage tooth grinding as soon as you start to start to notice the signs, particularly if you suffer from stress.

Photo by Silvana Carlos