This year we have had to cope with unprecedented events that are challenging us emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually. Many of us are feeling mentally exhausted and a holiday break can’t come soon enough. High stress levels can affect us in lots of different ways, including impacting on our oral health. It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of stress on your teeth and gums, and the steps you can take to prevent damage.
Teeth Grinding Or Clenching
Also known as bruxism, the habit of grinding or clenching your teeth is a common symptom of stress that even children and teenagers can suffer from. Teeth can wear down prematurely from the constant pressure of clenching or grinding, leading to loosening, breakage or even tooth loss. And side effects like sore jaws, stiff necks, headaches and back pain are also common. It can also cause relationship issues by disturbing your partner’s sleep.
TMJ refers to temporomandibular joints which move the lower jaw. Stress can cause TMJ disorder, causing jaw stiffness and aching, clicking or popping jaws and sore/stiff necks and headaches. TMJ disorder can go together with bruxism or be a separate issue.
Weaker Immune System
High stress levels can make it harder for your body to fight infections such as gum disease. Stress makes it harder for the body to manufacture immune cells to combat bacteria – allowing bacteria to thrive and increasing inflammation. It’s common for us to see gum disease in our patients who are highly stressed.
Also known as canker sores, mouth ulcers can be triggered by stress as well as other causes such as vitamin B deficiency, food sensitivities and irritations in the mouth. They can range from being mildly uncomfortable to quite painful, especially when eating or drinking.
Biting your nails can be a habit caused by stress or anxiety. It is not good for your teeth as it can move them out of position. It also introduces germs from under your fingernails into your mouth.
Protecting Your Oral Health From The Effects of Stress
Obviously, it’s ideal to treat the source of your stress rather than the symptoms, but this can be much easier said than done! However, there are things you can do to protect your teeth and gums from damage caused by stress.
- Injectable muscle relaxants such as Botox and Dysport can be used to freeze the jaw muscles to prevent clenching or grinding, while still giving you full use of your jaw for chewing, eating and full facial expressions. The effect of the injections usually lasts for about three months.
- If clenching or grinding your teeth at night is a problem, ask your dentist about a custom-made nightguard. This is similar to a sports mouthguard but thinner and therefore more comfortable to wear overnight. It protects your teeth from being worn down by overnight clenching or grinding.
- Always try to maintain a good oral hygiene routine – and don’t skip the flossing! Flossing really is essential for keeping gum disease at bay. And regular visits to your Dental Hygienist will provide in-depth cleaning and scaling, as well as ensure any causes for concern are detected early.
- Mouth ulcers can certainly make eating and drinking miserable. Avoid anything acidic and use a numbing gel for temporary relief. And be gentle when brushing.
If stress is a concern for you, see your Dentist for an assessment of your oral health. They will identify any causes for concern and recommend the best course of treatment.