How Stress Hurts Your Teeth

More people are clenching their teeth, often in their sleep, as our daily dose of stress rises
October 26, 2020 Updated: October 26, 2020

Between our current political landscape, a pandemic, and overall angst every time I see the news,  I’ve never before sensed such global stress.

I don’t get stressed out often, but I know things are getting out of hand when my teeth start hurting. While stress and my teeth may seem unrelated, I know that when my teeth get sore or sensitive, I’m unconsciously clenching them. It’s my wake-up call to dial it back a little, step away from the news, and take some time for myself.

And I’m not alone, I recently read that more dentists are seeing patients with cracked teeth from clenching than ever before. Apparently lots of other people are feeling pressure, too, as tooth clenching is a fairly common side-effect of a stressful life. If you suspect that you are a tooth clencher (or if you’re ringing the stress bell!), here are a few things you should know:

1. Tooth clenching can be an unconscious reaction to stress. Many people are completely clueless that they are clenching until other symptoms arise.

2. Clenching most frequently occurs during the night, which is why so many people are unaware of their clenching habit. However, it’s possible to be a daytime clencher, too. Personally, I clench mostly while I’m sleeping, but occasionally catch myself with my teeth firmly squeezed together during the day.

3. A tight masseter muscle is the culprit in most cases of tooth clenching. It’s located above and slightly forward from the lower corner of your jaw bone. It’s also the muscle that makes chewing happen; and while tiny, it’s considered to be the strongest muscle in your body.

4. In addition to tooth pain and cracked teeth, clenching over long periods of time can affect almost every muscle in your head and even some in your neck. As a result, a great deal of neck pain, TMJ (temporal-mandibular joint) misalignment, and ear problems can be related to clenching.

5. Because so many head and neck muscles are involved in clenching, it is also a very common source of headaches. One telltale sign is if you are waking up with headaches. It may mean you have been clenching and grinding your teeth all night.

6. While clenching can be the source of a whole host of symptoms, the good news is that there are a couple of things that you can do. The obvious first step is to get a handle on the stress that’s causing you to clench. You can also visit your dentist and have them make you a mouth guard that you wear at night. Doing so repositions your jaw and creates a barrier between your upper and lower teeth, which can be helpful.

7. Finally, acupuncture can be very effective for teeth clenching. Not only does it help with stress reduction, but there are also some very good acupuncture points in or near your masseter muscle and temporal-mandibular joint that can calm things down considerably. If your teeth are working overtime while you’re sleeping, consider acupuncture and Chinese medicine as a safe, effective, and drug-free fix.

Needless to say, the best solution to clenching your teeth is to live in calmer times. However, right now that’s not possible, so a good Plan B is to acknowledge and work to relieve your stress, limit your exposure to upsetting news, and look for ways to bring a little more serenity and kindness into your life.

Lynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of “Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.” This article was originally published on AcupunctureTwinCities.com