Many people would be surprised to learn that being stressed out may be affecting not only the health of their teeth but also how they look.
A type of tooth wear, known as ‘attrition’, involves contact between the teeth over and above normal use, as seen in patients who generally grind and clench their teeth at night (also known as bruxing), that has been linked to a stressful lifestyle.
To add insult to injury, when patients suffer from sensitivity as a result of tooth wear, how they react has the potential to make matters worse. For example, sufferers may avoid toothbrushing and flossing, plus make poor food and drink choices, in an attempt to avoid the pain these everyday tasks can cause.
Statistics gathered by the NHS suggest that over three-quarters of adults (permanent teeth) and more than half of children (primary teeth) are suffering from some type of tooth wear and, if we continue as we are, this is set to get worse.
Signs and symptoms
Those who do suffer from such grinding and/or clenching activity may experience tooth sensitivity, problems chewing, headaches and neck ache. If a dentist examined a bruxer’s mouth, they might find teeth that are:
• Sharp or chipped
• Wearing flat, and looking shiny and pitted
The dentist can help
Dentists are there to help, and will be able to make a diagnosis of attrition, provide preventive advice and care, or refer the sufferer on, if appropriate.
Possible treatment options include prescribing muscle relaxants, fabricating a suitable mouthguard to be worn at night to relieve pressure on the jaw, or recommending care from a physiotherapist or osteopath with specialist knowledge of the muscles involved.
If there was one piece of advice above all others I would offer, it would be this – don’t delay in seeking help. If damage resulting from tooth wear is diagnosed and addressed in its early stages, tooth grinders can avoid the extensive and expensive dental treatment that would otherwise be necessary to correct the situation.
The good news is that making a few simple lifestyle changes can be a big help, such as:
• Doing something relaxing before bed, such as yoga, reading or having a bath
• Learning to brush effectively yet gently with a relatively soft toothbrush and a toothpaste that is low in abrasivity (dentists can offer advice on this).
In addition, if someone is suffering from tooth sensitivity (which should be diagnosed by a dentist to ensure there is no underlying condition that needs treatment), using a fluoridated mouthrinse every day at a different time to toothbrushing is an effective first line of defence. A desensitising toothpaste can also be helpful in alleviating the pain caused by sensitivity.