Are You Making Your Teeth Anxious?
A new study by Tel Aviv University researchers has found that social anxiety can damage your teeth.
People who are anxious often develop ways of defusing stress such as fingernail biting, teeth grinding and chewing on hard substances such as ice. All of these activities have dental consequences.
In the Tel Aviv study the research team used questionnaires to analyze 75 people in their early 30s. One group had social phobia – defined as a debilitating fear experienced in social situations. About half of were taking antidepressant drugs. A control group of 35 people did not have a social phobia.
Each person in the study took a psychiatric and dental exam. Oral habits like gum chewing, nail biting, teeth grinding and small jaw movements were logged and reviewed.
The data showed that 42.1 percent of the people with social phobia had moderate to severe dental wear compared to 28.6 percent of the people in the control group.
Damaging Dental Habits
The most common self-soothing behaviors that can cause significant oral health problems are:
- Biting Your Fingernails: According to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), a dedicated nail nibbler will spend thousands to repair the dental damage caused by their habit.
- Grinding Your Teeth: 40 million Americans grind their teeth regularly. 10 percent of them grind so hard and so often that they fracture their fillings, crack their crowns, and/or destroy their dentures and don’t have dental insurance.
- Chewing On Ice: The dental damage that comes from chewing on ice includes cracked and chipped teeth, damage to tooth enamel, problems with existing dental work such as fillings and crowns, and sore jaw muscles. You may also find your teeth become extremely sensitive to hot and cold drinks and foods, and are more prone to cavities.
Not Just Anxious – Maybe?
In some cases, people crave the sensation of chewing on items that have little or no nutritional value – such as ice, dirt, clay, chalk, paper, paint, sand and rocks. The medical term for this is “Pica.” Chewing on ice is the most common form of pica and is called pagophagia.
In some instances, a physical disease is at the root of Pica. For example, compulsive ice chewing is increasingly being documented as a symptom of anemia, particularly iron deficiency anemia (there are more than 400 types of anemia). Medical science has not yet 100% sure why people with anemia seem compelled to chew ice but suspect the coolness may calm minor oral inflammations caused by iron deficiencies.
Other reasons to chew ice include relief for a dry mouth, quitting cigarettes, stress relief, boredom or an attempt to cut back on food consumption in order to lose weight.
Dental Treatment Options
As you or a loved one learns to manage stress without relying on self-soothing behaviors, you should see your dentist to ensure you’ve corrected any physical oral problems caused by the behavior. Proper dental cares often also inspires a “fresh start” mindset and help a stressed or anxious person to avoid damaging behaviors in the future.
Your dentist may also be able to provide solutions to help you avoid unconscious behaviors such as tooth grinding via a custom fitted mouth guard. Feel free to discuss your stress habits with your dentist and ask for their input and expertise in addressing the problems. Call us at 1-800-238-5163 to find out about how dental savings plans can help make quality dental care affordable.