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.
What is ‘stress’? A primarily physical set of responses which react to the environment and situation around us. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it can be extremely useful. Our bodies go into what is known as ‘fight or flight’ mode, with a large surge of adrenaline enabling us to either tackle or rapidly get away from the situation in the most effective manner. Blood flow is re-routed primarily to the muscles in the body needed for these basic actions. What doesn’t work so well, is when our bodies experience stress reactions to everyday situations that we cannot fight or get away from, yet our fight or flight hormones are running high and the blood flow has been directed away from the brain. When we are kept in a state of stress for long periods of time, this can lead to minimized brain function and an inability to ‘think straight’, having a detrimental effect on our general health and relationships with others.
But how does stress affect our mouths:
Teeth Grinding – leading to aching jaw / neck and shoulder pain / root canal problems
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. Jaw massage may also be used to treat this condition, and at London Holistic Dental Centre this is carried out by Lynn Rae, who you can find out more about by clicking here.
When stressed, our body’s ability to fight off infection can become compromised, which makes us more susceptible to bacterial viral or fungal infections inside the mouth, such as abscesses. They can form inside the gums, teeth or bone around the mouth and can be very painful.
Also known as ‘halitosis’, bad breath affects up to 25% of people in the UK and is often caused by a buildup 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.
Also known as mouth ulcers, canker sores 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 canker sores disappear after a week or so, but it is best to avoid anything too acidic or spicy to avoid irritation while they are visible.
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. As with Bruxism, jaw massage can also help to treat this condition.
Gum Disease and 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.
Neglecting Oral Hygiene
When under significant levels of stress, we often forget to take care of ourselves properly. Often, poor energy levels caused by a lack of sleep make the smallest of tasks seem like hard work. Brushing and flossing are essential components of your daily healthcare routine and should not be avoided. Stressed people may also believe that they have no time to visit us for their regular check-ups – please make time.
Stress is linked to snacking and comfort eating. Stressed people, often tired from a lack of decent sleep can automatically crave and ultimately reach for the sugary energy fix to get them through the day. This can be highly detrimental to the health of our teeth over longer periods of time.
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:
- 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.
- Read or listen to some meditation and/or mindfulness techniques. There is 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!
- 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.
- Visit us here at London Holistic Dental Centre for regular dental checks and cleaning.
No one has to go through this alone. If you feel that you need extra help, don’t hesitate to visit your GP, who will be more than happy to point you in the direction of someone that can help you get back on track.