Stress – the Impact on our Oral Health

 In Dr Kate Hughes

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.

Human beings haven’t necessarily adjusted to the typical stress situations of our modern technological era. Our bodies are geared towards running from danger or fighting opponents, ‘fight or flight’, but neither of these responses are helpful in coping with money or relationship worries, for example. Our bodies are therefore left surging with adrenaline and hormones; blood is re-routed to key muscles in the body in preparation for a physical response, but when directed away from the brain this can lead to mimimised brain function and an inability to utilize logic and reason. Over time, this can harm our mental and physical wellbeing.

So how can we deal with our stress? Be honest with yourself and take a step back – evaluate your life. What are the common patterns building your stress levels that you can break? Can you personally do anything differently to change your circumstances for the better? We can recommend the following as a good starting point:

  • Visit us here at the clinic for regular dental checks and cleaning.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet, drink lots of water and exercise regularly. We cannot emphasize the importance of these points. If your body is getting the nutrients and hydration it requires, half the battle is already won. Keeping your body active can really help to channel stress in a positive way.
  • Look after yourself – don’t neglect your daily healthcare routines. You will suffer from this in the long term. Make time for you and learn to enjoy peace and quiet away from the chaos of everyday life and the onslaught of blue screens in every direction. We all need a break sometimes.
  • Read or listen to some meditation and/or mindfulness techniques. There are an abundance of free audio videos online, each focused on different areas that you may wish to concentrate on. We promise there is something for everyone out there! This can be extremely useful in training your body to breathe and relax. In doing so, your body is released from ‘fight or flight’ mode, which can be the key to a restful night’s sleep for many. And while we’re on the subject – get plenty of sleep!

 

Here at the clinic we see many signs of stress in our clients’ mouths. We have listed the top examples for you:

Cheek Biting

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.

 Teeth Grinding 

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 clinic, 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.

 Bleeding Gums

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.

Dental Abscesses

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.

Mouth Ulcers

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.

Bad Breath

Also known as ‘halitosis’, bad breath affects up to 25% of people in the UK and is often caused by a build up 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.

 

If you are suffering from any of the above, please don’t hesitate to book an appointment with us at the practice. Our friendly team is on hand – don’t let stress get a grip on you or your mouth! We can help.

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