As we approach the end of Stress Awareness Month we thought this article on the link between dental health and stress would be very timely.
Research has proven that over 80% of modern diseases have a direct link to stress in some form or another. A worrying statistic, stress affects every corner of our bodies from the emotional to the physical, but have you considered the impact it can have on our mouths?
Stress can lead to a variety of problems with our teeth, gums, inner cheeks and breath. As dentists, we are usually able to spot signs of stress as they begin to manifest in the mouth – here are some examples of what we see on a (sadly) regular basis:
Cheek biting is a repetitive action, a coping mechanism linked almost exclusively to stress and anxiety. Aside from attempting to reduce your stress levels, treatments such as acupuncture or hypnosis have helped many to combat severe cheek biting.
Also known as ‘Bruxism’, stressed people may find that they grind their teeth or clench their jaw when asleep at night. Most aren’t actually aware that they are doing it, but over time the edges of the teeth will become more translucent and Bruxism can lead to sleep disorders, headaches, jaw pain, and damaged teeth. Here at the practice, we will spot the warning signs and can provide you with a mouth guard to protect your teeth while you sleep. In severe cases of teeth grinding, the nerves of the teeth can be exposed, and root canal treatment may be required to remove the nerve from the tooth. In some cases, we may also recommend that you try Botox to relax the jaw muscle.
Stress can cause or exacerbate gum disease. The Academy of General Dentistry commented: “Stress affects the immune system, which fights against the bacteria that causes periodontal disease, making a person more prone to gum infection.” If you notice that your gums are bleeding, which is a symptom of gum disease, make a dental appointment to get checked over.
Also known as ‘halitosis’, bad breath affects up to 25% of people in the UK and is often caused by a buildup of stomach acid, leading to acid reflux. Stress causes more stomach acid to build up than usual. Antacids can help to reduce this, but further investigation into the stomach lining may be required for more extreme cases.
When stressed, our body’s ability to fight off infection can become compromised, which makes us more susceptible to bacterial infections inside the mouth, such as abscesses. They can form inside the gums, teeth or bone around the mouth and can be very painful. Antibiotics will be required to treat the problem.
Also known as canker sores, ulcers appear on the soft parts of the inside of the mouth, such as the tongue, cheeks, lips and throat. Although the exact cause of these sores is still something of a mystery, research has found that they are linked to how we process stress and anxiety and usually surface during periods of heightened stress. More common in women, they are also linked to hormonal shifts. Although unpleasant, most mouth ulcers disappear after a week or so, but it is best to avoid anything too acidic or spicy to avoid irritation while they are visible.
Stress can also lead to snacking and comfort eating. Stressed people, often tired from a lack of decent sleep can automatically crave and ultimately reach for the sugary energy fix to get them through the day. This can be highly detrimental to the health of our teeth over longer periods of time. It is therefore important to try hard to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. It is just as important to drink lots of water and exercise regularly. When under significant levels of stress, we often forget to take care of ourselves properly. Often, poor energy levels caused by a lack of sleep make the smallest of tasks seem like hard work.
Brushing and flossing are essential components of your daily healthcare routine and should not be avoided. Stressed people may also believe that they have no time to visit us for their regular check-ups – please make time and don’t neglect your daily healthcare routines. You will suffer from this in the long term. During sleep hours is when our bodies attempt to rest, recover and repair – get as much sleep as you can. If you find that you are struggling to sleep, mindfulness and relaxation techniques readily available on the internet can really help with this.
If you are concerned about the impact stress may be having on your mouth, please feel free to pop in for a check-up. If stress is interfering with your life and body on an unhealthy level, please consider contacting your GP for additional support. This is not an uncommon problem and plenty of others are going through something similar. A bit of extra help can get you back on track and in a better headspace to manage stress more healthily and effectively.