Stress has become a major problem in today’s society, especially lately with all the uncertainties that have revolved around the COVID-19 pandemic, economic pressures, politics, and a growing abundance of health concerns. This past year, you’ve likely felt more stress than usual. We have all heard about how bad stress is for our mental health and some of the physical ailments it can cause, but what most people don’t know is that stress can also majorly affect their dental health. Too much stress can wreak havoc on your teeth and gums. Here is a list of some of the ways stress can affect your teeth and tips on how to manage it.
One of the biggest links between stress and teeth manifests itself in teeth grinding. Teeth grinding can be caused by a number of triggers, but the most common trigger is stress. When you are stressed, you may unconsciously clench your teeth while you sleep or grind your jaw back and forth. Over time, teeth grinding can cause your teeth to wear down or chip, and it can also wear out your TMJ. Since teeth grinding because of stress usually happens when you’re asleep, you may not be aware you’re doing it. So, some of the common symptoms of teeth grinding you can look for include:
- Jaw pain
- TMJ disorder
- Abnormal tooth wear
- Broken teeth
- Tooth and gum sensitivity
While teeth grinding most often occurs while asleep, it can also happen while you’re awake. When in a stressful situation, you may find yourself clenching your jaw. If you’ve noticed any of the above signs of possible teeth grinding, be sure to check to see if you are clenching your teeth in moments of stress while awake. When you find yourself clenching or grinding your teeth, stop and try a healthier way of coping with your stress. University General Dentists can also provide you with a mouth guard for you to wear at night to keep your teeth from grinding as you sleep.
Aphthous ulcers, otherwise known as canker sores, are painful sores that occur on the tissues of your mouth. While it’s still unclear exactly what causes them, research shows that stress increases the risk of developing canker sores. This is likely because of the effects stress can have on the immune system. It is believed that canker sores surface when the immune system attacks the mouth lining and causes the tissue to break down. Canker sores typically heal on their own in 10 to 14 days, but they can cause a lot of pain and discomfort during that time. In times of high stress, you may notice a canker sore show up on your cheek, inside your lip, on or under your tongue, or on your soft palate. This is especially likely to happen if you brush too hard, eat spicy or acidic foods, or incur a minor mouth injury such as an accidental cheek bite.
To keep canker sores away, it is best to find methods of reducing stress so that your oral health does not have to suffer. If a canker sore appears, you can apply a numbing agent such as Orajel or another over-the-counter medication. Rinsing with saltwater can also help reduce inflammation and pain.
Dry mouth, or xerostomia, results from reduced saliva production. Research shows that stress, anxiety, and depression can decrease the amount of saliva your glands produce, leading to dry mouth. Many people may breathe through their mouths when they feel anxious, and this airflow can further dry out oral tissues. Dry mouth may not seem like an important issue, but producing enough saliva is essential for your dental health. Saliva washes away food debris and bacteria from your mouth, helping to prevent cavities and gingivitis. The lack of saliva caused by dry mouth allows bacteria and food debris to stay in your mouth and on your teeth. This can significantly increase your risk of cavities and tooth decay.
One way you can combat dry mouth is by drinking plenty of water to help increase saliva production. Rinsing with a non-alcoholic mouthwash can also help relieve dry mouth. If your dry mouth continues after your period of stress is over, consult your dentist to figure out the cause, provide the right solution, and take measures to prevent tooth decay.
Gum Disease & Infection
Stress has been proven to have complex and harmful effects on the immune system. It can weaken the body’s ability to fight off infections and diseases, including gum disease. This weakening of the immune system from stress is a major factor behind the progression of gum disease, allowing it to move from gingivitis into periodontitis with the risk of losing teeth. To make matters worse, oral infections further weaken your immune system beyond the effects of stress. The mouth is the gateway into the body and provides a point of entry for bacteria and germs to enter into your blood stream through your inflamed gums.
So, it’s important to make sure you take extra care of your teeth and mouth during times of stress when your immunity may already be weakened. Thoroughly brush your teeth twice a day and floss every day to clean between your teeth. This will keep plaque (the film of bacteria that causes gum disease) under control and unable to damage your gums. You should also regularly visit your dentist to keep your gums and teeth healthy.
Oral Hygiene Neglect
When under significant stress, it’s common for us to neglect ourselves and let our self-care practices fall by the wayside. This can be because we lack the time, energy, mental capacity, or resources it takes to complete our usual routines. The first things to go are often simple tasks such as brushing and flossing. Nutritional habits may also change. When people are stressed, they tend to crave sugary foods that are bad for their dental health, especially if they are not regularly brushing and flossing their teeth. If oral hygiene is ignored for too long, your mouth will end up dealing with the consequences. You may experience cavities, bad breath, gum disease, and even tooth loss. It’s important to try to keep up with your oral hygiene even in times of stress so that you do not have to deal with the added stress of oral health problems.
Dealing with Your Stress
The first step toward dealing with your stress is being honest with yourself about what you are feeling and how you are handling it. If you can identify when you are under stress, then you can take the next step of deciding how to decrease the stress and handle it in a healthy way. If you feel like your stress is out of your control and is negatively affecting your mental and physical health, seek help from a mental health professional.
Here are some other things you can do that may help you manage your stress:
- Deep breathing
- Relax muscles with a massage or bath
- Get enough sleep
- Eat a balanced diet
- Take breaks
- Listen to music
- Make time for hobbies
- Eliminate triggers
- Talk to someone
Oral Health Care at a Knoxville Dentist
If you have been feeling stressed lately, you’re not alone—this has been a stressful time for us all. Here at University General Dentists, we want to help alleviate your stress, not add to it. So, let us help you take care of your dental health so that it can be one less thing for you to worry about. With regular visits, we can help you keep your oral health on track and provide preventive dental care so your smile can stay healthy and beautiful. We will also talk with you about your oral hygiene routine and provide helpful recommendations on how you can take care of your oral health to improve your overall health.
If your mouth has already started to feel the effects that stress can have on your teeth, we can help with that, too. Our experienced dental staff will bring your mouth back to optimal oral health with the best treatment for your situation. Some of the dental care services we offer include crowns, bridges, TMJ therapy, periodontal therapy, root canals, dental implants, cosmetic dentistry, and more. If the thought of going to the dentist is too stressful, you can ask for one of our sedation options to make the visit more bearable.
To take back control over your dental health, schedule an appointment with University General Dentists today. Give us a call at our UT Medical Center Office at 865-305-9440 or our West Knoxville Office at 865-500-5700, or you can request an appointment online.