While some of the effects that stress can have on your physical and mental healthy are obvious, others are more subtle. As a prime example, many people aren’t aware that stress can contribute to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ disorder for short) and gradually damage the teeth over time.
The Link Between Stress, TMJ Disorder, and Bruxism
When you’re stressed, your body may start to unconsciously clench and/or grind the teeth together. This is called bruxism, and while it sometimes happens during the day, it’s especially common at night. Occasional clenching or grinding won’t have any ill effects, but of course, stress can last for a long time, and as a result bruxism can put a lot of strain on your teeth and jaw. This wears down the enamel, weakening the tooth and making it more likely to break in the future. It can also damage the supporting ligaments and muscles around your jaw joint, leading to chronic jaw pain.
The effects of stress-induced bruxism can grow worse over time. Eventually, your TMJ disorder could reach the point that it starts to interfere with your everyday life, and your teeth could be compromised. It’s important to be aware of the impact stress can have on your smile so that you can act quickly to prevent the worst of the long-term effects.
How to Protect the Teeth and Jaw from Stress
You can make a conscious effort during the day not to clench and grind your teeth, but you won’t have any control over what your mouth does at night. As such, you can try following these steps to protect your teeth and jaw from stress-induced damage:
• Reducing your stress can help relieve the symptoms contributing to your TMJ disorder. Meditation, yoga, exercise, more sleep, a healthier diet, and seeing a therapist can all help you get your stress under control.
• Try to avoid alcohol and caffeine as much as possible, as both can intensify teeth grinding.
• During the day, try to expose your jaw to as little stress as possible. For example, you shouldn’t chew gum excessively, as that tends to put strain on your jaw joints. You’ll also want to eat mostly soft foods and stay away from meals that are hard, chewy, crunchy, and tough.
• A nightguard can help you protect your mouth from bruxism during the night. The appliance works by positioning the jaw so that it’s in a more comfortable resting position, giving the jaw joints a chance to recover while you sleep. It also acts as a barrier that keeps the upper and lower teeth separated. That way, even if you do end up clenching and grinding, the teeth won’t come in direct contact with each other.
You should consult a dentist as soon as possible if you think stress is putting your teeth and jaw at risk; just like other stress-related symptoms, bruxism and TMJ-disorder will only get more severe and harder to manage over time.