Dentist reveals how to relax tight facial muscles

Updated on 04/04/2022 at 09:46

  • Have you ever noticed that you clench or grind your teeth in stressful situations?
  • Then you probably suffer from bruxism like so many people.
  • We spoke to an expert about the consequences this can have on our teeth.

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Whether it’s Corona and the associated health fear, isolation in the home office, fear and worry about the war in Ukraine or a painful separation. Stressful life situations can become a mental burden. Some people react to this by grinding or clenching their teeth. We have with Dr. Romy Ermler, Vice President of the German Dental Association.

Miss Dr. Ermler, why do people grit their teeth, what’s the trigger?

doctor Romy Ermler: The unconscious tension of the masticatory muscles with grinding and clenching of the teeth, the so-called bruxism, serves as an outlet for the body to relieve stress. Studies have shown that people with bruxism have increased stress levels by measuring salivary cortisol. I have observed in my patients that this tension in the jaw muscles also occurs very often during the day, not just at night.

What are the effects of bruxism on the body?

Bruxism can affect the body in different ways. If you grind heavily, literally rubbing the enamel and grinding surfaces over the surface of the tooth, it can permanently damage the teeth. With stronger bruxism, the sensitivity of the teeth increases. These can hurt or, in the worst case, even loosen. It also affects different types of dentures and fillings. The oral mucosa and jaw muscles can also be affected. Cheeks may show biting. Sometimes teeth marks appear on the edge of the tongue.

Many patients complain of sore masticatory muscles that feel tired and stiff. In sufferers who have suffered from bruxism for a long time, a significant increase in masticatory muscles can be observed. Bruxism is a risk factor for the development of functional disorders of the temporomandibular joint, associated with pain during jaw movements and restricted mouth opening. This can lead to tension in the masticatory muscles as well as in the neck muscles.

Studies show that people with bruxism have a more than 3 times higher risk of headaches. These often appear in the temple area when waking up in the morning after a restless night. While we’re talking about sleeping. Is insomnia also a possible consequence?

Yes, insomnia is one of them. Sleep disturbances can not only be a consequence, but also a trigger of bruxism.

What is also related to this is snoring. On the one hand, snoring worsens the quality of sleep. On the other hand, nocturnal snoring can also cause physical stress, so that you also grind your teeth. This leads to a kind of vicious circle.

How to fight against bruxism? When you see a doctor, do you often hear that you have to fight the causes first?

Exactly. But of course, that’s always easier said than done. Especially if you are currently in a stressful situation due to the corona virus, for example, these factors cannot simply be ignored. However, one can try to take countermeasures. Sport can help to be a little more balanced. Jog or incorporate short walks into your daily life. Autogenic training, for example, can be helpful.

So listening to soft music or appropriate relaxation exercises? How important is good sleep hygiene in this context?
Very important. Those affected must take care not to stay in front of the television indefinitely in the evening and, above all, not to consume any more negative news before going to bed. The smartphone should also be put away in time. No news, no social networks. Avoid unnecessary stressors.

Is there a trick to relax the jaw during the day?

I recommend that my patients perform self-observation using the three-point system. To do this, you take three dot markers or small Post-Its and stick them in places you look at frequently. This can be, for example, the mobile phone, the fitness watch or the computer monitor. Every time you look at this point, you should be actively thinking, “What am I doing with my teeth and jawbone right now?” This should allow you to observe yourself and filter out certain situations in which you grit your teeth particularly hard. Then you can try explicitly relaxing your jaw or doing relaxation exercises.

During sleep, this method is not possible. In order to protect the teeth, it is therefore advisable to undergo a functional analysis. The dentist may then prescribe a bite splint, also called a bite splint. It protects the teeth and can help relax the jaw.

[Redaktioneller Hinweis: Die Aufbissschiene wird von der Krankenkasse bezahlt, die Funktionsanalyse allerdings meist nicht. Hier sollten Patientinnen und Patienten am besten vorab mit der Krankenkasse zwecks einer Kostenübernahme sprechen.]

What if bruxism dragged on for months?

In high school students, bruxism often occurs before exams and then disappears on its own, what if this tension has been there for months?

My patients often describe the problem to me. The corona pandemic has been dragging on for a very long time now. However, the question is not so easy to answer. We dentists treat the symptoms that arise and try to avoid consequential damage as much as possible. However, if preventive measures really do not help, one should think about therapeutic treatment, in which a targeted attempt can then be made to solve the problem from the very beginning. Physiotherapists, on the other hand, treat tight muscles and give advice on special exercises. These exercises should then be repeated at home.

Can children also be affected by bruxism?

Naturally. Children have suffered massively from Corona in recent months. All that homeschooling, lack of exercise, social isolation. However, you cannot prescribe a splint to children because the jawbone and teeth are still growing. Here it is very important to investigate the causes. Parents should try to alleviate their symptoms of stress and calm the souls of children. Autogenic training and relaxation exercises can also help here.

About the Expert:

doctor Romy Ermler has been a resident dentist in her own practice in Potsdam since January 2005, specializing in dental prostheses and periodontology. She has also been an expert in dental prosthetics and periodontology since 2009 and vice-president of the German Dental Association since June 2021.

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