Social Anxiety May Lead to Teeth Grinding, Dental Issues

In general, the word anxiety is defined as being a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically in association with an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. About one in six adult Americans is affected with an anxiety disorder, which is characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks. The most common of these include panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and social anxiety disorder. These conditions pose quite a disturbance in everyday life, often causing disruptions in what most would consider routine tasks. When associated with dentistry, anxiety usually presents itself in the form of dental phobia, or  fear or anxiety about visiting the dentist. But according to a recent study, anxiety can play another role in your oral health.

According to a recent Science Daily article, a team of researchers at Tel Aviv University found that anxiety experienced in social circumstances can elevate the risk of bruxism, or teeth grinding. This some-what common affliction can cause tooth wear, fractures, and jaw pain. The study, which was published in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation, involved the assessment of 75 men and women in their early 30s using questionnaires. Of those participants, 40 were predetermined to have a social phobia, characterized by excessive fear in social situations. Just under half of that group were on antidepressant drugs. A control group of 35 individuals were identified as not having social phobia. All participants underwent psychiatric and dental exams and oral habits, like gum chewing, nail biting, and small jaw movements, were assessed. Antidepressant drugs have previously been found to influence bruxism, this study did not find any evidence of a link.  Moderate-to-severe dental wear was found in about 42% of the social phobia subjects and almost 29% of controls. Small jaw movements were found in 32.5% of the phobia group and only about 12% of the controlled group. Symptoms of awake bruxism were reported by 42.5% of social phobia participants and just 3% of controls.

While the study was not originally intended to deal with a dental problem, there are clear dental consequences to teeth grinding. “Interaction with people seems to be necessary to trigger bruxism in socially anxious people,” claimed  Dr. Ephraim Winocur of the Department of Oral Rehabilitation at TAU’s School of Dental Medicine. “By treating social anxiety, we will be able to treat bruxism as well.”

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