experience stress all the time - and there are as many different
ways in which we react as there are causes. Dental stress is one
specific reaction which involves the teeth and jaws. This page explains
signs of dental stress, what causes it, and what might be done about
Stress - and its relationship to physical ailments
- has been noticed for long time. Though addressed throughout history,
the concept as we know it today was developed by Dr Hans Selye in
1936. Dr Selye defined stress as the 'non-specific response of the
body to any demand made upon it'. It is now apparent that any change
we experience causes stress. This can be either positive (promotion
at work) or negative (loss of a job). Stress is basic to life. It
cannot be avoided. Without any stress, life would be dull and colourless.
Too much stress, however, is damaging. It affects us both emotionally
and physically. Medically speaking, stress is the rate of wear and
tear on the body. How our body reacts varies by individual. Usually
excessive stress will cause our body to break down at its weakest
point just as a chain breaks at its weakest link. For one person,
this may be in the form of a stomach ache - for another, it may
be a headache.
of Dental Stress
People who experience dental stress have
their 'weak link' in the jaws and teeth. Specific signs of dental
- grinding and clenching the teeth
- tired and sore jaw muscles
- cracked and chipped teeth, or broken fillings
- teeth which seem shortened or worn down
- clicking or popping of the jaw joints
- widening spaces between your front teeth
- unexplained movement or loosening of your teeth
- sensitivity of your teeth to hot and/or cold
Do we clench our teeth because we're nervous - or
don we feel tense because our muscles are strained? It is a chicken
and egg question. Most likely though, we suffer the effects of dental
when the bite is not right.
A Vicious Circle
Muscles, like people, need to rest occasionally. When your bite
is not right - as from teeth which are crowded, crooked, or worn
down - the muscles never get to rest. Instead they must work extra
hard to bring the upper and lower teeth together. Eventually they
become tired and sore. When muscles suffer from too much stress,
they become shortened and stiff. Soon they become painful. This
begins a vicious cycle in which the pain makes you feel tense and
uptight. This worsens the muscle spasm, which worsens the pain.
It also worsens the bite. Strange as it may seem, apparently unrelated
symptoms such as headaches or facial pain may result from this condition.
The Princess and Pea
It is important to remember that people react
to stress differently. Some people are more sensitive to physical
imperfections than others. The fable of the princess and the pea
describes how the long-lost princess was identified among all the
maidens in the kingdom. A pea was placed under a stack of mattresses.
Only the princess was sensitive enough to feel the pea when she
laid on top of the stack. Some people are more sensitive to small
dental imperfections - such as a high filling. Others may never
Paying attention to subtle signs of dental stress
can prevent more full-blown problems later on. Although many of
the signs mentioned are not painful, they do indicate that the it
is not right.
Chopping down a tree takes many whacks with an axe.
Eventually one chop will make the tree fall. Similarly, many stresses
such as lifestyles, diet, or age, may chip away at your ability
to tolerat dental imperfections. You may not notice until one day
you wake up, for example, with a terrible headache. It may seem
sudden - but the breakdown results from the combined effects of
too much wear and tear.
Let Your Muscles
What can be done about dental stress? If you experience
any of the signs mentioned, discuss them with your dentist. Your
dentist will adjust your bite so that the muscles can function without
extra strain and tension. If you have clenched your teeth over a
long period of time, this may be a habit. Relaxation training can
teach you to change damaging dental habits. Biofeedback is a particular
type of relaxation training in which you work with instruments which
'feedback' information to you about your muscles' activity. The
instruments will show how effectively you are able to relax your
muscles using certain techniques. In some cases, additional counseling
is useful to help you identify the sources of stress in your life
and how to change or manage them differently.
Remember - we cannot eliminate stress. We can however
learn to deal with it so that it does not become damaging. Signs
of dental stress creep up on us in subtle ways.
Stewart J. Wright, Holistic Dental
Practitioner, Shore Street Dental Surgery,Cawdor Place, Shore Street, Oban