Assessing the Link
The study was conducted by researchers at Tel Aviv University, where researchers assessed social anxiety and its oral health effects in 75 individuals. There was a study group of 40 individuals with social anxiety, and a control group of 35 that didn’t have anxiety. Of those with social anxiety, just under half were also being treated with SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, like Prozac or Paxil).
Patients were given psychiatric and dental exams to assess the severity of their social anxiety and the state of their oral health. In particular, researchers were looking for symptoms of bruxism and stress-related oral habits, including gum chewing, nail biting, and small jaw movements known as “jaw play.”
Several symptoms of bruxism were found the be strongly associated with social anxiety. Overall, symptoms of bruxism were reported in 42.5% of social phobia patients, but only 3% of controls. Along with this bruxism, we expect that we’ll see more tooth wear, which is true. About 42% of those with social anxiety had moderate to severe dental wear, compared to just under 27% of those without social anxiety. Jaw play was less strongly associated with social anxiety, being found in 32.5% of the study group and 12.1% of controls.
Although SSRIs have been associated with bruxism in the past, the association was not seen in this study.
A Psychological and Physical Disorder
Because the researchers are approaching the subject from a psychological standpoint, they focus on the fact that this seems to show that bruxism is a psychological disorder.
It’s true that bruxism definitely has a psychological component, and that anything that increases stress can increase bruxism.
But bruxism can also be related to poor occlusion, which causes your jaw muscles to strain as they seek a comfortable position. It’s worth noting that for this study, the symptoms of bruxism researchers looked for were only awake bruxism. Night bruxism or sleep bruxism is commonly associated with poor occlusion as well as sleep apnea, and may be a more physical condition with a relatively small psychological component.
Repairing Damage from Bruxism
Whatever the cause of your bruxism, it’s important to get it treated. In addition to the noted effects of bruxism, it can cause damage to your jaw joint, resulting in temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), which can lead to further effects like headaches and jaw pain, as well as perpetuating the tooth damage of bruxism.Cosmetic dentistry or reconstructive dentistry can be used to restore damaged teeth to their healthy and attractive appearance, but it’s important to treat the underlying cause–TMJ and/or bruxism–to ensure lasting results.