Parasites and Teeth Grinding: Myth or Reality? (Intestinal Parasites and Bruxism: Myth or Reality?)

Bruxism, characterized by the clenching or grinding of teeth, is commonly attributed to factors such as stress, neurological conditions, and malocclusion. However, research has suggested there was another medical condition hidden in plain sight for years as a myth and only recently was confirmed to be a culprit: intestinal parasites.

Parasites and teeth grinding have been the subject of much speculation, so in today’s article, we aim to provide a comprehensive analysis of the potential correlation between intestinal parasites and bruxism, particularly in children who are more susceptible to parasitic infections.

Understanding the relationship between bruxism and parasites in children is also crucial for early detection and effective management of both conditions. By exploring the scientific evidence supporting this association, we hope to provide valuable insights for parents, caregivers, and healthcare professionals seeking to address this concern.

What Is Teeth Grinding?

Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, is a condition characterized by the unconscious clenching or grinding of teeth as a habit and chronically, not just occasionally, at different points in life. Most people, up to 90% of the global population, will grind and clench their teeth at some point, but only a few will develop bruxism.

Types of Teeth Grinding

Bruxism can be classified into different types based on the underlying causes and patterns of occurrence.

The most common type is primary bruxism, which occurs without any identifiable cause and is often associated with factors such as stress, anxiety, or sleep disorders.

Secondary bruxism, on the other hand, is caused by certain medical conditions or medications. One such condition that has been linked to teeth grinding is parasite infection, particularly in children who are more prone to intestinal parasitic infections.

Both primary and secondary bruxism can occur during the day or night, leading to two more classifications: awake bruxism and sleep bruxism.

Awake bruxism takes place during the day and is normally easier to detect and treat after the person becomes aware of it. Sleep bruxism is the act of clenching and grinding the teeth during sleep, and it is harder to diagnose and detect on time.

Awake bruxism is typically the more common version of both, although sleep bruxism is known to be seriously underreported worldwide because of its nature as a sleep disorder. Bruxism in children is also where it’s most prevalent, with almost 38% of kids suffering from the condition at some point in their childhoods.

Symptoms

The symptoms of chronic teeth grinding can vary depending on the individual and the underlying causes, with some patients presenting little to no symptoms at all. Still, in general, these are the common symptoms associated with the condition:

  • Teeth grinding and clenching.
  • Grinding noises at night or during the day.
  • Jaw pain and stiffness.
  • Morning headaches in grinding teeth in sleep.
  • Headaches.
  • Tooth sensitivity.
  • Orofacial pain
  • Worn teeth.
  • Disrupted sleep.
  • Sleep apnea.
  • Earaches.

Bruxism Risk Factors

While stress and anxiety are commonly associated with teeth grinding, recent studies have suggested causes that range from psychological disorders like PTSD or neurological ones like ADHD to lifestyle choices, medications, sleep disorders like sleep apnea, and misaligned teeth or bites.

And as this article’s main topic suggests, there is a growing consensus that one of the primary causes of bruxism in children is intestinal parasites, which are more common in children than adults.

Why Intestinal Parasites Might Cause Teeth Grinding

There is growing evidence to suggest a strong correlation between intestinal parasites and teeth grinding, particularly in children who are more susceptible to these parasitic infections.

Intestinal parasites, such as Giardia and hookworms, can cause a range of gastrointestinal symptoms, including stomach pain, diarrhea, and malnutrition. However, recent research has also linked these parasites to the development of bruxism, or teeth grinding. One study from 2002 found that 68% of people diagnosed with bruxism tested positive for at least one type of parasite.

The exact mechanism by which intestinal parasites cause teeth grinding is not yet fully understood. It is believed that the presence of parasites in the intestines can disrupt the normal functioning of the gastrointestinal system, leading to increased stress and anxiety. This, in turn, can manifest as bruxism during sleep.

Those were the exact findings, for example, of a 2010 study in Iranian 3-6-year-old children with bruxism, where the symptoms of parasitic infections had the secondary effect of developing bruxism.

Another theory is the effect a parasitic infection has on the vagus nerve, which connects the gut to the brain and is known to cause several problems with mastication and dental health. One study from Brazil of children 2 to 12 years old saw bruxism also being more than 5 times as likely in kids that tested positive for parasites.

Someone with parasites will also suffer discomfort and pain, which can disrupt sleep patterns and result in restless nights. This can further contribute to the development of teeth grinding as the body tries to alleviate the discomfort.

Types of Intestinal Parasites

There are several types of intestinal parasites that can affect the human body, with common examples including pinworms, Giardia lamblia, roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms. Children are especially susceptible to intestinal parasitic infections due to their underdeveloped immune systems and poor hygiene practices.

Understanding the different types of intestinal parasites is essential in recognizing and addressing the potential link between parasitic infections and teeth grinding.

Pinworms

One common type of intestinal worm parasite that mostly affects children 5 to 10 is pinworms. Pinworms are small, thread-like worms that live in the digestive tract and cause an infection called enterobiasis.

While these digestive parasites can cause a variety of symptoms that include discomfort and itching around the anus, they do not directly cause teeth grinding. Instead, the constant stress from the infection can lead to developing a habit of teeth grinding during sleep and even the day.

It is important to address both pinworm infections and teeth grinding separately to ensure proper treatment and management.

Giardia lamblia

Among the various types of intestinal parasites, Giardia lamblia is a common culprit associated with teeth grinding in many studies.

Giardia lamblia is a microscopic parasite that infects the small intestine of humans and animals, causing a condition known as giardiasis (beaver fever). This parasitic infection is typically contracted through the ingestion of contaminated food or water.
Giardia lamblia can be detected through stool samples, which can help diagnose the infection. People infected with Giardia lamblia may experience typical symptoms of parasite infection, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and weight loss. While the connection between Giardia lamblia and teeth grinding is not fully understood, it is believed that the abdominal discomfort caused by the infection may contribute to teeth grinding during sleep.

To prevent Giardia lamblia and other parasitic diseases, it is essential to practice good hygiene, including washing hands regularly, drinking clean water, and properly cooking food.

Roundworms

Roundworms, also known as nematodes, are another type of intestinal worm.

While the exact relationship between roundworms and teeth grinding is not fully understood, research suggests that the presence of these parasites in the digestive tract may contribute to the development of bruxism, much like with other worms.

Common symptoms of roundworm infections include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and weight loss. Factors such as poor hygiene, contaminated food and water, and close contact with infected individuals can increase the risk of roundworm infestation. Food sensitivities and allergies may exacerbate the symptoms of both roundworm infections and teeth grinding.

Hookworms

Hookworms are parasitic worms that infect humans and animals, burrowing into the small intestine and feeding on blood. They have hook-like mouthparts that enable them to attach themselves to the intestinal wall, causing symptoms such as abdominal pain, anemia, and fatigue, contributing to the development of teeth grinding in many people with the infection. Hookworm infections are commonly spread through contaminated soil or by walking barefoot on infected ground, making them a significant global health concern, particularly in areas with poor sanitation and hygiene practices.

Whipworms

Whipworms, scientifically known as Trichuris trichiura, are parasitic worms that infect the human intestines. They are named for their whip-like shape, with a thin anterior end and a thicker posterior end. Whipworms are transmitted through the ingestion of contaminated food or water and can cause symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and weight loss.

Studies have shown that whipworm infections can indeed lead to this dental issue, as in some cases, they can also affect the muscles and nerves, leading to teeth grinding.

Cryptosporidium

Cryptosporidium is a microscopic parasite that lives in the intestines of humans and animals and causes the infection of cryptosporidiosis. It can be found in contaminated water, food, or surfaces. It can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, stomach cramps, and dehydration, particularly in individuals with weakened immune systems, which is why it’s particularly harmful to children.

Other Common Symptoms of a Parasitic Infection Besides Bruxism

In addition to teeth grinding, it’s important to look for any other sign of parasite infection in a person to avoid the development of bruxism and other serious health issues.

Abdominal Pain

Among the various symptoms associated with a parasitic infection, abdominal pain commonly arises in individuals affected by intestinal parasites. This discomfort in the abdominal area can range from mild to severe and can be accompanied by other symptoms such as bloating, cramping, and diarrhea. The pain may be more noticeable at night or after consuming certain foods.

In some cases, the presence of parasites can cause inflammation in the intestines, leading to persistent or recurring abdominal pain. It is important to note that not all cases of abdominal pain are caused by parasites, and a proper diagnosis from a healthcare professional is necessary.

Diarrhea or Constipation

Frequently, individuals affected by intestinal parasitic infections may experience symptoms such as diarrhea or constipation. These common symptoms can significantly impact the daily lives of those affected, causing discomfort and distress.

Diarrhea, characterized by loose and watery stools, is often accompanied by abdominal pain and cramping. It can lead to dehydration and nutrient deficiencies if left untreated.

On the other hand, constipation, where bowel movements become infrequent and difficult, can cause bloating and discomfort. Both diarrhea and constipation are signs that the body is trying to eliminate the parasites and their waste products.

Weight Loss or Gain

Another common symptom that often accompanies bruxism as a result of intestinal parasitic infections is weight loss or gain.

When the body is infected with parasites, they can disrupt the normal functioning of the digestive system, leading to changes in appetite and nutrient absorption.

Some parasites feed on nutrients in the body, causing weight loss, while others may cause the body to retain water and lead to weight gain.

Children, who are more prone to intestinal parasitic infections, are particularly vulnerable to these weight fluctuations.

Bloating or Gas

Bloating occurs when the abdomen feels full and tight, often accompanied by excessive gas. This can be uncomfortable and even painful for individuals affected by parasitic infections.

The presence of parasites in the gastrointestinal tract can disrupt the normal functioning of the digestive system, leading to the production of excess gas.

Anxiety and Stress

Parasitic infections can cause a range of physical and psychological symptoms, and anxiety and stress are just some of them, but probably the most important when talking about the link between parasites and bruxism.

It is not uncommon for individuals with parasitic infections to experience heightened levels of anxiety and stress, as the presence of these parasites can disrupt the normal functioning of the body and lead to discomfort and uncertainty.

The body’s immune response to the parasites can also trigger psychological symptoms such as anxiety and stress.

Frequent Hunger and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

In addition to anxiety and stress, individuals affected by parasitic infections may also experience frequent hunger and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Frequent hunger, characterized by a persistent feeling of needing to eat, can be a result of the parasites feeding off the nutrients in the body, leading to a constant need for nourishment.

Chronic fatigue syndrome, on the other hand, can leave individuals feeling exhausted and drained, making it difficult to carry out daily tasks, work, or provide care to others.

Skin Rashes or Itching

Skin rashes or itching are common symptoms of a parasitic infection and can occur due to the body’s immune response to the presence of parasites. These symptoms can be quite uncomfortable and can significantly affect an individual’s quality of life. The itching may be particularly bothersome, leading to sleep disturbances and irritability.

Nutritional Deficiencies

When parasites invade the body, they compete for nutrients, causing a depletion of essential vitamins and minerals. This can lead to a wide range of symptoms, including fatigue, weakness, and poor immune function.

Children, who are more prone to intestinal parasitic infections, are particularly vulnerable to these nutritional deficiencies. They may experience stunted growth, delayed development, and cognitive impairments. Parasites can also interfere with the absorption of nutrients from the gastrointestinal tract, exacerbating the problem.

Joint Pain

When parasites invade the body, they can cause inflammation and damage to the joints, leading to pain and discomfort. This joint pain can be localized or widespread, depending on the extent of the infection.

In some cases, the pain may be accompanied by swelling, stiffness, and reduced mobility. It is important to note that joint pain caused by parasites can be mistaken for other conditions, such as arthritis or injury. Therefore, it is crucial to seek medical advice if you experience persistent joint pain, especially if you have a history of parasitic infections.

Parasite Infection Diagnostic Methods

An accurate diagnosis of parasite infection relies on effective and reliable diagnostic methods. When it comes to identifying parasites in the human body, healthcare professionals employ various techniques to ensure accurate results.

One commonly used method is the examination of stool samples. By analyzing the presence of parasite eggs or larvae in the stool, healthcare providers can determine the type of parasite and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

In addition to stool analysis, blood tests can also be performed to detect specific antibodies or antigens associated with certain parasitic infections.

Furthermore, imaging techniques like ultrasound, x-rays, or endoscopy may be used to visualize the parasites directly or to identify any damage they may have caused.

It is worth mentioning that bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and other symptoms of a parasite infection could be confused with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which is why diagnostic methods play a crucial role in identifying and treating parasite infections, ensuring the well-being and health of individuals affected.

Treatments and Medications for Intestinal Parasites Bruxism

Once a diagnosis is confirmed, appropriate treatments and medications can be administered.

The choice of treatment depends on the type of parasite and the severity of the infection. In most cases, antiparasitic or anti-worm medications are prescribed to kill or expel the parasites from the body. Commonly used medications include albendazole, mebendazole, and ivermectin. These medications work by disrupting the parasites’ ability to absorb nutrients or by paralyzing them, allowing the body to eliminate them naturally.

One clinical study saw that over 75% of children with a worm infection saw their bruxism gone after a single dose of anthelmintic medication targeting the parasites.

Supportive treatments such as oral rehydration therapy and nutritional supplements may also be recommended to restore the body’s strength and replenish any lost nutrients.

Incorporating natural remedies like pumpkin seeds into the diet may also help eliminate intestinal parasites.

It is important to follow the prescribed treatment regimen and complete the full course of medication to ensure the effective eradication of the parasites. Regular follow-up visits with a healthcare provider are also necessary to monitor the treatment’s progress and ensure complete recovery.

Effective Treatment for Tooth Grinding

In cases where teeth grinding or bruxism is a direct result of a parasite infection, attacking the infection should be enough to alleviate the problem of involuntary grinding of the teeth. But in many cases, the habit of bruxism at night can persist even after curing the infection.

In addition, there are bruxism treatments that can supplement a parasitic infection treatment plan.

One effective treatment option is the use of a mouth guard or night guard. A mouth guard can be a custom-made device worn during the day in cases of daytime grinding that acts as a cushion, preventing the teeth from grinding against each other. Night guards are used for protecting the teeth at night from grinding and can also be customized or store-bought with predetermined sizes.

There are also stress management techniques to consider, such as relaxation exercises, meditation, and therapy, which can help reduce teeth grinding caused by anxiety or stress.

It is also important to address any underlying dental issues, such as misaligned teeth or a bite problem, as these can contribute to teeth grinding. Seeking professional dental advice and treatment is recommended to determine the most suitable treatment option for each individual.

Take Bruxism Seriously as an Indication of Potentially Bigger Problems

We now know there’s a connection between intestinal worms and parasites and teeth grinding, particularly in children, and this is supported by scientific evidence.

Understanding this association is crucial for early detection and effective management of both conditions.

By recognizing the potential link and utilizing appropriate diagnostic methods and treatments, parents, caregivers, dentists, or healthcare providers can address this concern and provide relief to those affected by both parasitic infections and bruxism.

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