Fears and stress triggers teeth grinding

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Anxiety, stress and everyday worries: one in five suffers from gnashing of teeth

Current research has shown that one in five people in Germany suffer from permanent gnashing of teeth. Tooth enamel, jaw muscles and joints are sometimes severely damaged. It is not uncommon for those affected to suffer from buzzing in the ears, visual disturbances or back pain. Doctors assume that stress and psychological stress play a major role in the development of teeth grinding.

In Germany, one in five suffers from chronic gnashing of teeth. The consequences are usually damage to the temporomandibular joints and teeth. Most patients grind their teeth at night or in profane or stressful everyday situations. Every second German has lived through this habit at least one or more times in a lifetime, as reported by the Bundeszahnärztekammer (BZÄK) in Berlin. In most cases, the crunching stops on its own after a certain time. "However, with one fifth there is permanent pressing or rubbing of the upper and lower jaw teeth with problematic consequences," said BZÄK Vice President Prof. Dr. Dietmar Austria. In the medical community, the phenomenon is also called bruxism.

Grinding your teeth causes severe tooth problems and back problems
Grinding your teeth is not only unpleasant for the hearing environment. Since a person's biting force is very strong, massive force is released in the mouth when the teeth are gritted. The tooth enamel is often severely damaged, although the enamel is the most resistant substance in the human body. Dentists recognize the grating from changes in the teeth. These have, for example, smooth polished surfaces and chips or cracks. In severe cases, the teeth can loosen, be heavily rubbed off and the tooth nerve is then only covered by a very thin layer. "Pressing and crunching also tensions the chewing muscles, overloads them and can cause punctual or diffuse pain," explains Dr. Oliver Ahlers from the German Society for Functional Diagnostics and Therapy. Patients often feel pain in the jaw joints. Headache, neck pain, shoulder pain, back pain and pain in the pelvic muscles are not uncommon. In some cases, doctors have also observed additional ringing in the ears and vision problems.

Stress and psyche are often stressed
The causes of teeth grinding are very different. In many cases, patients suffer from stress, which is why doctors also speak of a psychosomatic illness, explains the dentist in Austria. Psychotherapists suspect that the cause is suppressed emotions, fear, everyday worries, or bad events such as the death of a loved one. "Stress and worries make people grind their teeth," reports Tobias Weinmann, behavioral therapist from Hanover. "The crunch is a kind of drain valve for conscious or unconscious feelings".

Organic causes are also possible
In addition to the psychologically or emotionally stressful triggers, organic problems can also be a cause. Incorrect teeth, incorrect crowns, fillings and other orthopedic reasons can lead to bruxism. However, many don't know about it because the crunching often takes place unconsciously. An early diagnosis is therefore difficult. "At night the crunch is often only noticed by the bed neighbor," says Hans-Jürgen Korn from the German Society for Biofeedback.

Dental splint can only help symptomatically
Most often, dentists diagnose the condition. The standard therapy is a dental splint that those affected usually have to wear at night. However, this therapy only aims to "stop the loss of additional tooth structure," says Ahlers. A "bite aid without adjusted tooth contacts" is intended to help patients encounter an unexpected obstacle when grinding their teeth. This brings the upper and lower jaw apart. A so-called occlusion splint can also set a jaw position. The lower jaw should be stabilized and the chewing muscles relieved.

In addition to mechanical therapy, it is important to find the trigger. However, the dentist cannot do that. The dentists can only alleviate the acute complaints. "But the dentist doesn't take the stress away from the patient," emphasizes Austria. "Relaxation exercises such as autogenic training, yoga or tai chi can help," says Weinmann. In some cases, psychotherapy can also help to treat anxiety disorders.

Make crunching aware with biofeedback
Another form of therapy is biofeedback. The patients become aware of the crunching and pressing. A sensor measures the muscle tension that is attached to the chewing muscles. "If the swallowing movements are not just short, they are reported back to the person concerned by a warning tone," explains Korn. In this way, “your own body awareness can be strengthened in order to better remember in which situations you react to stress with tension.” Korn also pleads for relaxation exercises so that the afflicted learn to let their jaws loose. One exercise: the molars should not touch. The mouth is closed and the tip of the tongue remains behind the upper teeth. It is important to briefly check again and again in everyday life whether the described posture of the jaw is in place. (sb)

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