Whether from deadlines, financial troubles, arguments or work issues, for many of us, stress is a part of our daily lives. But have you considered how your stress may be impacting your oral health?
Bruxism (teeth grinding)
There are a number of factors that can cause teeth grinding, with stress being one of the most common causes. Often you won’t even be aware that you are grinding or clenching your teeth as it most commonly occurs when asleep. If you notice jaw pain or your teeth starting to become more translucent or shorter, this may be a sign of teeth grinding. Bruxism can lead to a number of issues including:
- Aching or Clicking Jaw
- Broken or chipped teeth
- Sleep Issues
- Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ)
As well as taking steps to relieve stress, one of the most successful treatment methods is making a custom-made splint. This can help to protect you from further damaging your teeth.
Dental abscesses and infections
Dental abscesses can occur during times of stress due to your bodies inability to fight infection. When you are stressed, your immune system becomes weaker and more susceptible to infection. Consequently, a bacterial infection can cause dental abscesses inside the teeth, gums or bone around the mouth. Signs of a dental abscesses include:
- Severe headache
- Pain when chewing or biting
- Redness or swelling in your face, gums or mouth
- Increased sensitivity to hot/cold food and drink
- Unpleasant taste in your mouth or bad breath
Dental abscesses require medical treatment and antibiotics, so be sure to visit your dentist or GP if you think you may suffer from a dental abscess.
Cheek biting is another problem that can arise in response to stress or anxiety. It tends to happen unconsciously as a form of compulsion to bite onto something. This can lead to issues such as:
- Damage to mouth tissue
- Pain and soreness from broken skin
- Mouth sores
Cheek biting can be a challenge to stop as the individual is often unaware of when it is happening. Some ways to try and stop this habit include reducing stress levels by exercising and eating healthily, as well as other forms of distraction such as chewing gum. It may also be necessary to visit your dentist to correct for any jaw or teeth misalignment.
Biting nails, pens or pencils
Sometimes we may unconsciously chew on our nails, pens or pencils, especially if we are concentrating in a stressful situation such as an exam or if stressed at work. This puts a lot of pressure on your teeth which can cause them to chip or fracture over time. Chewing on nails can also increase the spread of bacteria, increasing the likelihood of infections. Instead, try switching for a healthier substitute like chewing gum!
Unhealthy eating habits
We can all relate to the cravings for sugary, unhealthy foods when stressed. Many of us turn to comfort food to deal with stress or cope with unpleasant emotions, which are usually sugary items such as chocolate or lollies. This is because when stressed, your body increases cortisol production which triggers cravings for sweet and fried foods to give your body an instant energy boost. However, not only are these foods bad for our teeth, as they lead to tooth decay, but they don’t help with stress in the long term (we can all relate to the uncomfortable feeling after a sugary binge). Instead, try to get into healthy habits by recognising when you are stressed and making conscious eating decisions. Some tips include:
- Waiting at least five minutes before you give into a craving
- Go for a walk if you feel yourself craving unhealthy foods
- Switch sweets for healthier alternatives such as fruits, nuts, and seeds.
- Don’t keep sugary, unhealthy or processed foods in your house
- Plan a shopping list before you go to the shops
Suffering from a dry mouth? Stress or anxiousness may be the reason why. Stress can cause you to breathe more through your mouth, which increases the dryness. Dry mouth problems can also arise as a side effect of medication such as antidepressants, antihistamines, muscle relaxants and anxiety medication. Some issues associated with a dry mouth include:
- Difficulty chewing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Sore throat
- Hoarseness and dry nasal passages
- Increase in plaque
- Increase risk of cavities.
You can treat dry mouth problems with good oral habits, chewing gum to increase saliva production, regular sips of water and mouthwash. If the issue persists you should visit your dentist.
Stress is something that affects us all but recognising when you’re stressed and how this may impact your habits is key to ensuring you protect your oral health and overall wellbeing. If you have any questions about how to deal with stress-related dental issues, we can offer tools and advice to help safeguard your oral health.