How does stress affect a teen's teeth?

Teeth grinding caused by stress can lead to headaches.
Teeth grinding caused by stress can lead to headaches.

Stress affects everyone, and teens -- with their developing bodies and various social pressures -- seem to get an extra helping. This can rear its head in a lot of noticeable ways. Some teens, for example, may have disrupted sleep patterns. Others may become regular users of alcohol, tobacco or drugs.

Some stress side effects have a way of going unnoticed by anyone else -- except the dentist. For example, teens who are stressed out may consciously or subconsciously deal with stress by tightly clenching their teeth during the day and grinding them at night, a condition known as bruxism.

Over time, bruxism can wear down teeth and create orthodontic problems or changes in a teen's bite. Grinding can also cause problems with the joint that connects your jaw to your head, just below your ears, the temporomandibular joint (though you probably know it as TMJ). Eventually, this leads to "clicking" when the jaw moves, which can really drive a teen crazy -- especially if those jaws are moving because you just asked about his day. TMJ problems caused by grinding also result in discomfort on the sides of the face, difficulties chewing food and even headaches.