Recent times have thrown many people into circumstances they never expected and forced people into situations they had to quickly adapt to. The uncertainty that many in our communities are facing in terms of employment opportunities, financial concerns and even threats to their general health, are all reasonable justifications for feeling stress levels rise more than normal. It is generally accepted that long lasting periods of stress can have a negative health impact, but the effects this can have on one’s dental health is less talked about. One of the best ways to manage stress is through awareness and mindfulness, so here’s four ways stress can have a negative impact on your dental health.
Clenching and Grinding
With increased anxiety or stress, it’s common to unconsciously clench or grind your teeth together. This condition is called Bruxism.
Often this happens throughout the day while doing other tasks without the person being aware of it. Clenching and grinding over time can lead to the teeth being worn down and if left untreated can eventually create tooth sensitivity as the outer layer of the teeth wears away leaving the tooth nerve less protected.
More sudden problems occur when the pressure caused by clenching and grinding causes a tooth to fracture and a part of the tooth breaks off, usually requiring an urgent visit to the dentist. Some fractures can be minimal, only causing a small crack or chip off the tooth, but in some cases if the tooth splits below the gum line, the tooth cannot be saved and will need to be removed.
Under stress, it is also common to continue clenching and grinding more at night time, while sleeping (Sleep Bruxism). This can become a subconscious habit and many people aren’t aware they are doing it until their partner sleeping next to them complains about the grinding noise.
How do I get myself checked for Bruxism?
During your regular dental check-ups your dentist is likely to check for signs of bruxism.
Your dentist will be able to assess your teeth for signs of tooth wear to see if you may be clenching or grinding. It may be recommended to wear a night guard while you sleep, which is a thin plastic guard that sits over your teeth to protect them from the effects of clenching and grinding.
It is also thought that being more aware of jaw tightness during the daytime and consciously relaxing your jaw can help to reduce night time clenching and grinding.
Think about how your jaw muscles feel right now? Are they tense, or relaxed? Are your teeth together or slightly apart?
Changes to your dental routine
Stress can cause people to abandon their normal routines, and this may also include sacrificing a healthy dental routine. When busy and focused on other priorities, healthy habits like brushing twice a day and flossing may go out the window, especially if going to bed already feeling tired or later than usual. One way to combat this is to include your oral health into your daily rituals, so they aren’t as easy to skip. Set a reminder to brush or floss at a time that you’re more likely to have the energy and motivation to brush, rather than leaving it until you’re tired and more likely to rush through it or even skip it.
Your Stress Loves Sugar – Is this a Myth?
Making smarter choices at the supermarket will help you avoid reaching for the sweet, sugary snacks when you’re feeling stressed. Sugar can often be seen as a quick reward when we feel like we’re doing a task that we’d rather not be doing. Although it may satisfy your brain and body temporarily, short, frequent bursts of sugar on the teeth is one of the main contributors to tooth decay. In fact, if you can’t substitute the sugar hit for a healthier snack, it’s actually better for your teeth to have all the sugary foods or drinks in one hit, rather than little treats throughout the day. It’s not so much about the size of the sugar hit, but more about the frequency, so the more times the teeth are under attack from a sugary reward, the more likely the chance of forming tooth decay.
More than just a dry mouth
When stressed, the body’s natural response is to go into a mild version of the ‘fight or flight’ mode. This response was useful to us as humans in primitive times, as it focused our senses and helped us get away from anything trying to attack us. Although the causes of stress might be different in modern times, the body’s reaction is still the same. It will often cause your mouth to feel dry, as the body will produce less saliva while under the stress response. If this lack of saliva is prolonged over time, your teeth have a higher risk of tooth decay and wear. To combat this, sipping water regularly throughout the day helps to keep your teeth and mouth hydrated and neutralises the acids that can cause decay. It helps to keep a bottle or glass of water near you throughout the day as a reminder to drink water and keep your mouth from drying out.
Although stress can be managed in many ways, the effects it can have on your teeth are often not as easy to manage and can be longer lasting. We may not know what the future will bring, but by creating mindful, healthy dental habits, you can prevent the need for extra dental visits and keep your teeth in great condition, so you can keep smiling.
The information set out here is of general nature only and should not to be relied upon as dental advice. Please consult a qualified dental practitioner for specific treatment which meets your personal circumstances and needs.