Hema Vijay throws light on bruxism, a problem precipitated by stress, which causes people to grind their teeth subconsciously

Worn-out, cracked or fractured teeth, jaw pain, or protracted pain during dental procedures …. Is such damage to teeth always related to inadequate dental hygiene and nutrition? Well, not always. In fact, dentists in the city say that, of late, several young adults are coming to them with severely damaged teeth. The damage had been caused by grinding the teeth due to stress at night and clenching the jaw. This is technically referred to as ‘bruxism’.

Nervous tension and stress act as a trigger on the muscle fibres attached to the teeth and the jaws, and this induces grinding of teeth and/or clenching of the jaws. “Damage to the teeth can occur in a matter of months. What compounds the problem is bruxism which is not easily noticed by the patients or even their dentists until the former experience severe pain. Sometimes, the symptoms of bruxism get masked by the indiscriminate use of desensitising toothpaste,” rues Dr. S. Venkateswaran, senior dental surgeon and orthodontist. He adds, “One young man came to me with most of the enamel on his teeth worn away. Apparently, he had been unable to ear ice cream or drink hot coffee for a month, and had tried to manage the situation by using desensitising toothpaste.”

Affecting young people too

“Not just working adults, I encounter many high school and higher secondary school students coming with a range of symptoms, which turn out to be a consequence of stress-induced night-grinding of teeth. This was unheard of earlier,” says Dr. M. B. Aswath Narayanan, professor and head, Public Health Dentistry, Tamil Nadu Government Dental College. “Many parents don’t even realise their children are under stress caused by academic or other pressures because the children did not display any outward signs of stress. Some parents also wrongly attribute worm infestation as the cause of bruxism and try to treat it on their own. Parents should spend more time with children to understand them,” he adds.

Obviously, life is stressful for most of us. We should learn to handle this stress. While psychological help can help us come to terms with the challenges in our lives, breathing exercises done in a lying down posture just before sleeping can calm us and give us peaceful sleep, which, in turn, would help avoid bruxism. Some breathing exercises are specifically intended to alert our minds, so it is best to learn exercises that enable one to calm down from a trained yoga teacher. A relaxing walk or listening to some music just before sleeping could prove to be de-stressing.

Dr. Aswath strongly rejects treating bruxism with antidepressants. “That would only make their minds dull, drowsy and unproductive. Yoga is best,” he recommends.

Using dental splints at night help protect the enamel from wearing away, even if an individual were to grind his teeth. Pliable cap splints that don’t even feel foreign, are now available. If damage to the teeth has been caused by mal-aligned jaws and teeth, corrective treatment has to be done to prevent further damage. As for the damage already suffered, restorative treatment in the form of fillings or root canal followed by putting in a crown, has to be done depending on the degree of enamel loss.