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.
Over 80% of modern diseases have a direct link to stress in some form or another. With a statistic so high, it’s easy to understand how stress can also have a significant negative impact on our oral health. At JL Dental Care, we recognise many signs of stress within our patients based on what we see in their mouths. Repetitive coping mechanisms almost exclusively linked to stress and anxiety such as cheek biting or teeth grinding is not something that anyone else would necessarily know about, but do you know how to deal with these issues? At the practice, we can help you with so much more than just your teeth. Read on for some advice on how to treat signs of stress within your mouth.
Stressed people may find that they grind their teeth or clench their jaw when asleep at night, known as ‘bruxism’. This can lead to generalised wear of the teeth but perhaps most noticeable may be the edges of the teeth becoming more translucent or worn over time. Bruxism can also lead to sleep disorders, headaches, jaw pain, and permanently damaged teeth. We can provide you with a mouth guard to protect your teeth while you sleep and help relieve the other symptoms too. In very 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. Cheek biting can benefit from treatments such as acupuncture or hypnosis in more extreme cases.
If you notice that your gums are bleeding, don’t ignore it. Bleeding gums can be a symptom of gum disease, which itself is exacerbated by stress. Our body’s ability to fight off infection can become compromised during stressful periods, which makes us more susceptible to gum infections. Stress is also an important factor for those who suffer from mouth ulcers which can be quite unpleasant. At times of stress, ulcers will be more frequent. They usually disappear by themselves after a few days, however, but it is helpful to avoid aggravating them by eating anything too acidic or spicy. If you are a sufferer then please ask for further advice.
Stress causes more stomach acid to build up than usual, which can lead to reflux and possibly contribute to bad breath or ‘halitosis’. This can have a detrimental effect on our emotional wellbeing, so antacids may take the edge off the problem in the meantime. It has also recently been shown that reflux can contribute to erosion of the enamel on our teeth. Long-term issues may benefit from further examination of the stomach lining by your GP. Poor diet can also lead to an increase in stomach acid. Stress is actually linked 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. Please remember to eat a healthy, balanced diet, drink lots of water and exercise regularly. Keeping your body active can really help to channel stress in a positive way.
Lastly, look after yourself properly and don’t neglect your daily healthcare routines. You will suffer from this in the long term. Homecare is critical for maintaining your dental health.
Although I have talked about the effects on oral health, addressing the stress and its causes is clearly most important. Some stressful situations will be temporary; exams, moving house etc. and will resolve as the situation resolves. Other stresses may take longer to resolve. Make time for you and make yourself a priority. When under significant levels of stress, we can get slack in our general hygiene. Sleep is a time when our bodies attempt to rest, recover and repair, so get as much 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. 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 dental examinations – your routine examinations are important and shouldn’t be neglected, so please make time to pop into the practice. Our friendly team is happy to assist you however we can and make your experience with us a positive one.