If you follow our blogs about oral health, you know that dentists can detect potentially serious conditions that affect your entire body simply by looking in your mouth. A new study suggests dentists may also be able to spot bullying.

Bullying has grown into a major problem. It puts countless adolescents under heightened emotional stress. According to the New York Daily News, data collected in Brazil reveals that kids who experience bullying are more likely to grind their teeth while they sleep.

A Strikingly Common Habit

Oral health and bullying: Kids who were verbally bullied were four times as likely to grind their teeth.

Oral health and bullying: Kids who experienced verbal bullying were four times as likely to grind their teeth.

Researchers looked at the oral health and academic experiences of over 300 children ages thirteen to fifteen.

Sixty-five percent of the bullied students ground their teeth.

“Both children and adults tend to grind their teeth when suffering from stress,” says Dr. Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation. “…bullying is a significant contributor here,” he says. “Sleep bruxism can be particularly damaging as we are often unaware that we do it.”

What Causes Bruxism?

An abnormal bite can lead to bruxism. However, dentists usually attribute tooth grinding to stress, anxiety, and sleep disorders like sleep apnea.

In 2017, actor Demi Moore confessed to Jimmy Fallon that over the past two years, stress caused her to grind her two front teeth. In fact, she ground them so hard that her dentist had to remove them. The two, shiny front teeth she sported on The Tonight Show were fake.

Symptoms of bruxism include worn down teeth, hypersensitive teeth and jaw aches. As Dr. Carter said, most bruxism sufferers don’t know they grind their teeth. Not, that is, until someone who sleeps in the same room hears them in the act.

While people usually grind their teeth at night, some sufferers grind their teeth while doing chores or driving, the BBC reported.

A Vital Insight into a Child’s State of Mind

With this new evidence about the likely cause, nonprofits like the Oral Health Foundation are taking action. They are urging parents and school nurses to view these symptoms in children as signs of bullying or other emotionally debilitating problems.

“Bullying of any form is absolutely abhorrent and can have both a physical and psychological impact,” Dr. Carter said. Moreover, “when experienced in childhood, [these] can lead to trauma that might last throughout adulthood.”

“Grinding teeth may not sound like a priority within the wider picture,” Dr. Carter added. However, “…it could prove to give a vital insight into a child’s state of mind and could be an important sign for us to identify bullying at an earlier stage.”

Grinding teeth could be an important sign for identifying bullying at an earlier stage.

Dentists who detect bruxism may fit the patient with a plastic mouth guard to help protect the teeth. Arguably, the most effective way to break the habit, however, is to relieve stress via exercise, meditation, or even psychological counseling.

The only way to know if you have bruxism or your symptoms are a cause for concern is by going to the dentist at least twice a year. The cost of preventing this and other oral health conditions will far outweigh the cost of repairing damage.

Read next: Back to School Dental Care Checklist

Early gum disease detection may help avoid more serious problems.

Detecting gum disease early is the best bet for avoiding more serious complications and dangers of gum disease down the road.

Gum disease can become a serious problem for one’s oral health. Bacterially-infected gums and soft tissues, if left untreated, can deteriorate to the point of tooth loss. But studies point to even larger dangers.

Let’s start with a definition. In its earliest, mildest form, gum disease is known as gingivitis – an inflammation of gum tissue caused by a buildup of plaque (the sticky film of bacteria that forms on the teeth after eating).

At this stage, gum disease is characterized by red, swollen gums that sometimes bleed. It’s generally reversible by daily flossing and brushing.

Gingivitis, however, can develop into a much more serious form of disease known as periodontitis. Periodontitis occurs when plaque turns into a harder substance at the gum line called calculus or tartar.

When tartar builds up in the v-shaped crevice between tooth and gums (the sulcus), periodontitis can develop and damage the supporting tissues of the tooth, resulting in possible extraction.

Gum disease: The mouth-body connection

Gum disease is inflammatory in nature. Research indicates that there is an association between gum disease and other inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory diseases. There is a mouth-body connection that many dentists and physicians watch closely for the overall improvement of their patient’s health.

Gum disease in those with high risk factors for other inflammatory conditions can likely exacerbate those conditions. For example, the oral bacteria that cause gum disease can be transmitted to heart tissue and lung tissue either through inhalation or through the blood stream. In the heart, this can increase arterial inflammation or attach to fatty plaques in the coronary arteries, leading to heart attack or stroke. People with chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) or pneumonia can see their conditions worsened by the inhalation of oral bacteria originating with gum disease.

…if you suspect gum disease, and you’re at risk for, or have any other type of inflammatory disease, make your condition known immediately.

Diabetics are more likely to have gum disease than non-diabetics due to their elevated risk of infection and compromised ability to recover. But they may also suffer diabetic complications from having gum disease. Severe gum disease can increase blood sugar, affecting already difficult blood glucose management issues in diabetics.

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Pregnant women are at risk of premature birth and low birth weight due to gum disease. Some studies have suggested that pregnant women with periodontal disease are more likely to deliver prematurely at a low birth weight. Women with osteoporosis may also suffer greater oral bone loss when gum disease is present.

Any serious condition should be brought to the attention of your dentist, but if you suspect gum disease, and you’re at risk for, or have any other type of inflammatory disease, make your condition known immediately. Detecting gum disease early is the best bet for avoiding more serious complications and dangers of gum disease down the road.

Have you recovered from gum disease through stepping up your oral health routine? Share a comment about your experience below!

Learn More

The Relationship between Diabetes and Periodontal Disease

Mention the word ‘cancer’ and most people shudder.  A common human response, we try to bury our heads in the sand or wish the concept away unless we actually have to deal with a diagnosis personally. But many cancers are curable when detected early – and oral cancer is no exception. Detecting oral cancer symptoms early can be instrumental in treatment.

Often beginning as a small white or red spot or sore – known as leukoplakia – anywhere in the mouth, oral cancer symptoms don’t necessarily require oral surgery to be detected. Most regular dental checkups include a visual and palpating check for early signs of oral cancer.

Oral cancer prevention benefits from regular dentist visits.

Maintaining regular dental visits is the first and best defense against oral cancer.

If cancerous, these cells can spread to neighboring healthy tissues and grow into a tumor. Later stages of oral cancer can then take hold in lymph nodes, bone, muscle, or other organs. Left untreated, oral cancer can cause disfigurement and even death.

Other potential oral cancer symptoms include the following:

  • Changes in the way your teeth fit together
  • Oral sores that bleed easily or don’t heal
  • Lumps, thickening, rough spots, or crusty or eroded areas in the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing, chewing, speaking, or moving the jaw or tongue.

Maintaining regular dental visits is the first and best defense against oral cancer. Your dentist is trained to detect oral cancer in its earliest stages and can test further for suspicious growths or conditions. Should something appear abnormal, a simple brush test may be ordered, which collects suspect cells for further analysis in a lab. Oral surgery may be necessary to biopsy the area later.

Other tests, such as a white light test and multi-spectral light test may be used on patients pre-disposed to cancers or at risk for oral cancer. Referral to a pathologist may be recommended for an accurate assessment.

Maintaining regular dental visits is the first and best defense against oral cancer. 

Should an oral cancer diagnosis result from your tests, oral surgery will likely be a necessity. Oral surgeries for oral cancer can include removal of the tumor and surrounding tissues, removal of all or part of the jaw, lymph node removal in the neck, removal of bone in the roof of the mouth, tracheotomy, tooth removal, or plastic surgery to restore removed tissue.

In addition to oral surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be ordered to shrink tumors or increase the effectiveness of the other procedures.

The best advice for preventing oral cancer is to avoid using tobacco and alcohol. Visit your dentist regularly to ensure proper examination and catch oral cancer as soon as possible. More than half of all patients diagnosed with oral cancer are already experiencing its spread to other parts of the body, complicating recovery. Avoiding that spread is as simple as showing up for a checkup.

Have you or someone you know successfully recovered from oral cancer? Share your experience in a comment below!

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