It’s common for stress to lead to bruxism, much like the stress of the current COVID-19 situation but there are also other reasons why one might clench or grind their teeth. New research suggests that people with social anxiety are more likely to suffer awake bruxism, teeth clenching and grinding, which can lead to tooth damage and TMJ.
Assessing the Link Between Anxiety and Jaw Pain
At Tel Aviv University, researchers conducted a study where they 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 taking SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, like Prozac or Paxil) as treatment.
The researchers gave patients psychiatric and dental exams to assess the severity of their social anxiety and the state of their oral health. In particular, researchers looked for symptoms of bruxism and stress-related oral habits, including gum chewing, nail-biting, and small jaw movements known as “jaw play.”
Researchers linked several symptoms of bruxism associated with social anxiety. Overall, 42.5% of social phobia patients reported symptoms of bruxism, 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 has a psychological component, and that anything that increases stress can increase bruxism. Jaw clenching anxiety is not unusual.
But poor occlusion can also cause bruxism, which causes your jaw muscles to strain as they seek a comfortable position. It’s worth noting that for this study, the researchers only looked for awake bruxism symptoms. Poor occlusion, as well as sleep apnea and may be a more physical condition with a relatively small psychological component, can cause night or sleep bruxism.
Repairing Damage from Bruxism
Whatever the cause of your bruxism, it’s important to seek treatment. 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. When TMJ and anxiety go hand in hand, it often leads to jaw pain from all the teeth clenching anxiety.
Dentists can use cosmetic dentistry or reconstructive dentistry to restore damaged teeth to their healthy and attractive appearance. It’s also important to treat the underlying cause–TMJ and/or bruxism–to ensure lasting results. We’re happy to answer any questions you might have about TMJ if you believe it’s linked to social anxiety.