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Dental Stress & Dental Health PDF Print E-mail
We experience stress all the time – and there are as many different ways to react as there are causes. Dental stress is one specific reaction which involves the teeth and jaws.
"…let me speak to you regarding the things to beware. To get angry and shout at times pleases me, for this will keep up your natural heart; but what displeases me is your being grieved and taking all matters to heart. For it is this, as the whole of physics teaches us, which destroys our body more than any other cause." – Maestro Lorenzo, 1402.
Stress – and its relationship to physical ailments – has been noticed for a long time. Though addressed throughout history, the concept as we know it today was developed by Dr. Hans Selye in 1936. Dr Selye defined stress as the "non-specific response of the body to any demand made upon it." It is now apparent that any change we experience causes stress. This can be either positive (a promotion at work) or negative (loss of a job). Stress is basic to life and cannot be avoided. Without any stress, life would be dull and colorless.

The Weak Link

Too much stress is damaging. It affects us both emotionally and physically. Medically speaking, stress is the rate of wear and tear on the body. How our body reacts varies by individual. Usually excessive stress will cause our bodies to break down at its weakest point – just as a chain breaks at its weakest link. For one person, this may be in the form of a stomach ache – for another, it may be a headache.

Signs of Dental Stress

People who experience dental stress tend to have their "weak link" in the jaws and teeth. Specific signs of dental stress include:
  • Grinding and clenching the teeth
  • Tired and sore jaw muscles
  • Cracked and chipped teeth and/or broken fillings
  • Teeth which seem short or worn down
  • Clicking or popping of the jaw joints
  • Widening spaces between the front teeth
  • Unexplained movement of loosening of teeth
  • Sensitivity of your teeth to hot and or cold
Do we clench our teeth because we are tense – or do we feel tense because our muscles are strained? It is a chicken and egg question. Most likely, though, we suffer the effects of dental stress when the bite is not right.

A Vicious Cycle

Muscles, like people, need to rest occasionally. When your bite is not right – as from teeth which are crowded, crooked, or worn down – the muscles never get to rest.

Instead, they must work extra hard to bring the upper and lower teeth together. Eventually, they become tired and sore.

When muscles suffer from too much stress, they become shortened and stiff. Soon they become painful. This begins a vicious cycle in which the pain makes you feel tense and uptight. This worsens the muscle spasm, which worsens the pain which worsens the bite. As strange as it seems, unrelated symptoms such as headaches or facial pain may result from this condition.

The Princess and the Pea

It is important to remember that people react to stress differently. Some people are more sensitive to physical imperfections than others. The fable of the Princess and the Pea describes how the long lost princess was identified among all the maidens in the kingdom.

A pea was placed under a stack of mattresses. Only the princess was sensitive enough to feel the pea when she laid on top of them.

Some people are more sensitive to small dental imperfections – such as a high filling, while others may never notice.

Paying attention to subtle signs of dental stress can prevent more full-blown problems at a later time. Although many of the signs mentioned are not painful, they do indicate that the bite is not right.

Chopping down a tree takes many whacks with an ax. Eventually the final chop makes the tree fall. Similarly, many stressors such as lifestyle, diet or age, may chip away at your ability to tolerate dental imperfections. For example, you may not notice until one day you wake up with a terrible headache. It may seem sudden but the breakdown results from the combined effects of too much wear and tear.

Let Your Muscles Relax

What can be done about dental stress? If you experience any of the signs mentioned, discuss them with your dentist. He will suggest some solutions such as:
  • A minor adjustment in your bite
  • An orthotic (splint) to wear over the teeth
  • TENS (transcutaneous electrical neural stimulation) which helps block pain and relax muscles
  • Exercises for the jaw and facial muscles
  • Visualization (tense/relax method) or imagery (imagining yourself in a more relaxed state).
If you have clenched your teeth over a long period of time from stress or a bite that is imperfect, you may have developed the habit. Your dentist may suggest relaxation training which can teach you to change damaging dental habits called Biofeedback. This is a particular type of relaxation training in which you work with instruments which "feedback" information to you about your muscle activity.

The instruments will show how effectively you are able to relax your muscles using certain techniques.

All of these treatments help relax muscles so they can function without extra strain and tension. In some cases, additional counseling is useful to help you identify the sources of stress in your life and how to change or manage them differently.

Remember – we cannot eliminate stress. We can, however, learn to deal with it so it doesn’t become damaging to areas like the TM joint, teeth or your general health.

Source: TMData Resources

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