A recent study published in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation identified a connection between high rates of bruxism and incidence of teen bullying. Bruxism is defined by the Mayo Clinic as the unconscious clenching or grinding of teeth while awake or asleep.

High levels of stress, habitually chewing gum during the day or consuming hard foods such as almonds or carrots can contribute to a person's likelihood of developing bruxism. However, anxiety is the most common link among these factors — studies cited by the Bruxism Association in the U.K. claim anxiety is diagnosed in more than 70 percent of patients with bruxism.

Researchers in Brazil recruited 206 patients who were not suspected of bruxism and 103 who showed signs of bruxism for the study. The participants filled out a survey with questions about verbal bullying incidents at school and about their overall economic class. The patients ranged from 13 to 15 years of age and were from multiple campuses across the country.

What these oral health experts found was alarming an overwhelming 65 percent of patients with bruxism were bullied at school. When compared to the 17 percent of bruxism patients who had not been bullied, it became apparent that the effects of being bullied went far beyond emotional damage.

Health professionals from all disciplines need to work to recognize the signs and symptoms of bullying. The American Sleep Association estimates that as many as 15 percent of children have bruxism.

Parents are encouraged to speak to their child's dentist or doctor if they recognize the signs of this disorder. Family members may notice a child gnashing their teeth while sleeping, or the child may complain of a headache or their jaw hurting. These symptoms are the most telltale signals that something is wrong with the child's sleep or overall oral well-being.

Protecting children's and teen's emotional health doesn't stop there. Dentists need to ask patients questions when they notice the warning signs of bruxism. The most obvious indicators may include jaw clicking or popping, advanced wear of teeth or general bite misalignment.

Inquiring about a patient's daily habits or problems at school may be the best places to start finding a source of the stress. It can help bullying victims reach out to adults whom they trust away from the bully. This also provides adults an opportunity to contact schools and help put an end to bullying behaviors.

It is worth mentioning that stress or anxiety takes its toll on adults, too. The Bruxism Association found that adults dissatisfied with their work were more likely to grind or clench their teeth in their sleep than adults who reported no job dissatisfaction.

Empathy can go a long way with helping patients of all ages recognize stress and unhealthy habits in their daily lives. Dentists who build a trustworthy rapport with those in their care can help them work to overcome stress and treat bruxism with a few caring questions.