Grit your teeth! Keep a stiff upper lip! This is the advice some may offer, or receive, when faced with stress or an uncomfortable situation. While it may be good advice in a figurative sense, literally clenching your lips or jaws or grinding your teeth is not the healthiest way to cope when you’re frazzled.
The kicker is, many people grind their teeth often—and don’t even realize it. It’s called bruxism, and it often happens while you’re sleeping. “A lot of the time I will see people who have ground their teeth tremendously and they look at me with surprise when I tell them that they’re grinding their teeth,” says Jennifer Jablow, DDS, a dentist in New York City.
Occasional teeth grinding may be no biggie, but if you’re doing it on the regular it could cause permanent dental damage, such as cracked or whittled down teeth, pain, and disturbed sleep.
Teeth grinding may be caused by a variety of factors, such as anxiety, stress, abnormal bite, crooked teeth, and even alcohol and tobacco use. In fact, one study in published in the Journal of the American Dental Association found that people who drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes may be twice as likely to grind their teeth.
So how can you tell if you’re grinding your teeth while you sleep? Look out for these textbook clues:
If you suspect that you grind your teeth at night, it’s important to see your dentist. “[Your dentist] can make you a night guard that’s custom fitted, which will help you prevent cracking the teeth, losing the teeth, and other problems,” says Dr. Jablow.