Stress is an unfortunate part of our life, one of its manifestations is tooth clenching and grinding. Our mouth has evolved in such a way that it stays slightly ajar and the teeth don’t touch usually. This way the teeth can retain the strong enamel cap for longer and it is not worn down. The only time teeth are meant to come together is when chewing or swallowing. When we are stressed, among other things our main chewing muscles contract and the teeth meet and press against each other, this is clenching. In some of us in addition to clenching other muscles start to pull the lower jaw forward and sideways leading to the grinding motion or bruxism. This process can be triggered by other lifestyle factors like smoking, large caffeine intake and heavy alcohol consumption or by taking antidepressants.
The clenching leads to the formation of minute cracks in the enamel which over time develop to larger visible cracks and extend to the dentine which is the inner layer of the tooth. The grinding or bruxing of the teeth leads to tooth chipping, wear and loss of tooth. Once the teeth have cracked or have been lost they will not heal back like broken skin or broken bone and they will continue to deteriorate. To prevent the destruction we need to separate the teeth when they are clenched and guide them in non-destructive paths when the muscles pull the jaw sideways. This is achieved with an occlusal splint or a night guard.