Bruxism – The Grind of Stress

Bruxism - noun - the habit of unconsciously grinding one's teeth, usually done during sleep; often associated with stress.

As is often the case, the idea for this post came to me during my dog walk. As you can see by the picture, Holly has taken to logging! It occurred to me that this may be her way of dealing with the stress of encountering bigger dogs. She is a rescue and her nervous behaviour indicates that she was never socialized.

Watching her bite on her log, I was reminded about a Dr. Oz segment on Oprah. He suggests biting down on a cork to relax the masseter muscle and the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). I teach less obtrusive techniques to help you undress your stress when you don't want to put a cork in it!

I wonder if Holly instinctively feels the change in her stress levels when she bites down on a log? Or does it serve as distraction, shifting her attention away from the uncertainty of encountering other dogs? Perhaps it's a combination of both.

Then, I started to think about how bruxism is often attributed to stress. A cause and effect scenario. Stress equals bruxism. What if it isn't the result of being stressed, but instead, an instinctive way to relieve stress? Dr. Oz's cork technique, but without the cork!

I believe that we all have an innate wisdom. We often unconsciously do the things that help us alleviate pain or stress. For example, what do you do when you have a headache? You probably hold your head or rub the location of the pain. Did you know that what you are doing is re-establishing neural connections between the body and the brain? It's also likely that you are hitting on energy points, otherwise known as acupuncture points.

Get curious about some of the things you do when you are struggling with emotional, mental or physical pain. Why do you do them? Have you since discovered that there is a physiological explanation? I hope you'll find it as fascinating as I do.

For decades, whenever I had a particularly rough day, I would brew a pot of Earl Grey tea. Later, I learned that bergamot, the essential oil that gives Earl Grey it's distinctive taste, is considered calming and restorative. A perfect recipe to initiate a balance between the two branches of the nervous system. I had unconsciously recognized that this cuppa' was just what I needed. I'll need to quantify this experiment and see what happens to my heart rhythms.

Does my theory that people grind their teeth as a way to alleviate some of their stress change things for you? It's subtle, but sometimes that subtlety means the difference between a negative and a positive - a shift in perception.

I'd love an opinion from Dr. Oz or a neuropyschologist and you, of course!

5 Replies to “Bruxism – The Grind of Stress”

  1. Hi Marianna,

    I used to grind my teeth a lot when young and when my dentist told me I was doing it (his inference from looking at my teeth!) I denied it, only to become AWARE of it while driving away from the office. The rising awareness helped, and learning to relax. But I’ve also heard that, like cravings for chocolate, it can indicate a deficiency of magnesium.

    Have a great day,


  2. One must have teeth to grind! I have some and wear partial dentures. I would reach for a cigarette in the old days when that would fix the stress. I hardly get stressed now a days. Nothing to bug me. Sad.

  3. What an interesting post…I think the way we internalize and respond to stress is indeed fascinating.

    The positive and hopeful thing is that regardless of how stressful/ painful things may be, there are things that we can do to increase our coping abilities such as the breathing exercise you described in a previous post, exercise and meditation.

    The hard part is that you may not feel up to doing these “good for you” things when you are in the midst of the chaos!

  4. Carol,
    I hadn’t heard that about the possibility of a magnesium deficiency.

    Do you actually feel regret about not having anything to bug you?

    For sure, that is the hard part – maintaining any sort of “good for you” thing when you are in the middle of a storm. That’s why it’s so important to establish the routines, to 1) help avert some of the chaos in the first place and 2) to cultivate the habit of balancing the nervous system so that it can be implemented in spite of the chaos.

  5. Holly’s log biting reminded me of my teeth clenching days and how my live-in boyfriend used to tease me about the low grating noise that I generated every night.

    I’m glad that I did not take the short cut to relief from bruxism – a medical term I never knew existed then.

    Anyway, I decided to get down to the root cause of my ailment instead of taking medicines which would only alleviate the pain and discomfort that I was going through. As expected, I was going through merry hell in my job and job-related stress finally took a toll on my health – teeth clenching was the outcome.

    I spoke to a clinical psychologist on stress reduction who initiated Cognitive behavioral Therapy. After about 6 to 8 therapy sessions, I was gradually able to rationalize many of my hidden frustrations and felt far stronger mentally.

    With time, my teeth clenching symptoms reduced; and most importantly, I am mentally strong not to allow stress to bog me down anymore.

    More about possible treatments here:

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