Some years ago we wrote about the link between stress and poor oral health. It’s fair to say that 2020 has been one of the most stressful in living memory for most of us, so we decided to look at the topic again in light of this years events.
UK statistics show that a staggering 79% of UK employed adults are experiencing work related stress, which is 20% higher that 2019’s figures. This is hardly surprising as many people are working from home, which has its own set of challenges, particularly if a partner is too. The stress of this situation is often increased further if young children are also in the home. For many others the stress is related to the security of their employment in these challenging times. Frontline staff have an increased risk of contracting Covid, so in short stress levels are higher than at any given point in recent history.
This article aims to outline how stress can affect oral health.
What causes stress?
In a recent survey, the most common causes of stress were found to be money, work (and job security), Covid related health concerns and failure to get enough sleep. When you get stressed, your adrenal glands produce a hormone called cortisol, which helps your body’s fight-or-flight instinct in a crisis. In addition to this, cortisol regulates how carbohydrates, fats and proteins are absorbed, keeps inflammation down, regulates blood pressure and increases your blood sugar. If your body keeps producing cortisol due to extended periods of stress, the hormone can shut down bodily processes such as the digestive, reproductive and immune systems, so it’s really important for your health to try and reduce your levels of stress.
How can stress affect oral health?
The most common oral symptom of high stress levels is teeth clenching, or bruxism. This commonly occurs during the night, so it’s difficult to know if you’re actually being affected by this or not! A short-term side effect of bruxism is headaches, and if the issue is left untreated your teeth can be permanently damaged, so if you’re feeling stressed it’s important to visit your dentist to check if this is affecting you. Although bruxism is the most common stress-related complaint, it is far from the only one- stress can also cause:
- Gum disease– Stress can lower your immune system and increase your risk for infection in the mouth.
- Dry mouth– Dry mouth is both a side effect of stress as well as the medicines used to treat stress and depression. The mouth’s first line of defence against bacteria is saliva, and without it there is an increased risk of tooth decay, gum disease and infection.
- Canker sores- Canker sores (white spots found on the soft tissue of the mouth) are harmless but can be painful.
- Tooth Decay- A neglected oral health routine and unhealthy lifestyle choices resulting from stress- as well as conditions such as dry mouth- increase your risk of tooth decay.
If you are clenching or grinding we may recommend the use of a night guard which you put in whilst you sleep and which will help to minimise the effects of the grinding. Underlying stress or anxiety may be treated with cognitive behavioural therapy.
If you are concerned that you have stress related bruxism, visit us at London Holistic Dental Centre or call 020 7487 5221 to book a dental health check which will include an inspection of your mouth and jaw.