The Daily (and Nightly) Grind, Part 1

I’ve had it with stress!

Welcome to living in the 21st Century. Stress permeates every aspect of our lives. Marriage and relationships, family, parenting, work, even vacations can be more stressful than we’d like to admit. Along with stress comes emotional and physical ailments. The mind suffers and the body pays the consequences. There is a measurable decrease in your body’s immune response in stressful situations. The body pumps out more adrenaline, heart rate and blood pressure increase, sleep is diminished and you wake up tired the next day with an ever-decreasing ability to got it...stress.

Unfortunately, I can’t provide you with a cure, or even an answer. I’m a Dentist! What did you expect? One thing I can address is a condition many people experience called bruxism, better known as clenching and grinding of the teeth and typically induced by stress.

The concept of stress-induced clenching and grinding has been around for millenia. There are no fewer than 10 references to “gnashing” of the teeth in the New Testament of the Bible, and all of them occur during unpleasant circumstances… like burning in the fires of Hell. The ancient scribes definitely knew about stress-induced bruxism.

Bruxism may be caused by other conditions, as well. While daytime bruxism may be brought upon by psychological stress, nighttime bruxism may be caused by a limited or partially obstructed airway.

Adults who suffer from sleep apnea, or any number of conditions that affect normal breathing patterns, tend to grind their teeth during sleep. Why is that? Children with enlarged tonsils and adenoids coupled with a naturally smaller airway also tend to grind their teeth while sleeping. It appears the answer lies in the recent discovery that clenching and grinding of the teeth, in both adults and children, tightens the neck muscles and consequently opens the airway, allowing more oxygen into the lungs… but not quite enough.

The negative effects of sleep apnea in adults can be life-threatening. It’s still too soon to know if a limited airway can have long-term consequences on a young child, but a decrease in oxygen levels to a developing brain can’t be good. Bruxism can be a sign or a symptom of more severe health problems and should, at the very least, start a serious conversation with a physician. Ignoring it may lead to long-term health consequences we may not even be aware of yet. In the next post, I'll talk about the dental consequences of bruxism.

Dr. Francisco J. Blanco Dr. Blanco has been practicing dentistry for over 20 years in Miami.

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