Stressful habits: Grinding and Clenching Your Teeth

Who amongst you reading this post grinds their teeth or knows someone who grinds their teeth when they are anxious, nervous and/or stressed out? I am one of the people who clenches and grinds when stressed; the strange part is when I do it, I clench my teeth when I am awake and stressed and apparently I grind my teeth when I go to sleep stressed (according to testimonials from my mother from when I was a kid, I don’t know if I still do that though).

It is somewhat obvious at least in my case that clenching and grinding teeth is one of the many coping mechanisms the body has come up with in order to deal with stress? But why of all things do we clench and grind our teeth? What purpose does it serve? Does it actually help?

This is what we will be looking into in this post.

First let us look at this article titled, “Teeth grinding (bruxism)” which is posted in nhs.uk. In this article they talk about how teeth grinding or bruxism as it is called, occurs mostly during our sleep when we are stressed. Other things that can cause bruxism are:

  • Certain antipsychotic and antidepressant medication.
  • Smoking
  • Regular alcohol consumption
  • Use of certain recreational drugs

The article goes on to talk about ways to treat bruxism like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Okay so now we know what causes bruxism but we still don’t know why we do it; that is where this article comes in. Titled, “The Real Reason You Grind Your Teeth” written by Dr. Mark Burhenne and posted on askthedentist.com, this article tells us that the reason why we clench our teeth in our sleep is to let us breathe. Apparently by clenching our teeth, we open up our passageways and breath more easily; however doing this while asleep also means we don’t get proper restful sleep.

So here’s my theory, when we are stressed our body reacts with the traditional fight or flight response which means consuming more energy, releasing adrenaline and needing more oxygen which means breathing more. When we go to sleep stressed our body is still in this mode and so we clench our teeth so that we can breathe better and get more oxygen.

So how do we solve this? Well, the simple solution is that we need to relax more, which isn’t as simple as it sounds. Basically we need to do different things to help us relax and find a way which is effective and helpful; it may be different for everyone, for some it will be meditation, for some it will be therapy, for some it will be taking up a hobby. Whatever it is, you will have to look for it yourself. Just take it one day at a time, you’ll find what relaxes you eventually.

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