Stress can have a huge impact on all aspects of your life, but most people don’t realise just how much it can affect your oral health.
Here, we chat to celebrity dentist Dr Richard Marques about the different ways your teeth, mouth and, in turn, general physical health can suffer at the hands of stress, and what you can do about it.
Translucent / shortened teeth
Normal, healthy teeth should be opaque, but some people may notice the edges of their teeth becoming somewhat translucent – or even shortening over time.
“This may be due to Bruxism, otherwise known as grinding of the teeth. You may need a bite guard to protect the teeth from wearing further.”
Most of the time, people who grind their teeth or clench their jaw aren’t aware they are doing it or do it while they are asleep, which is why a mouth guard is the most successful treatment method – at least until you bite through it!
Aching / clicking jaw
It is estimated that up to 30% of adults will experience an aching and / or clicking jaw at some point in their lives. This is sometimes referred to as temporomandibular disorder (TMD) or myofascial pain disorder.
“This is a common sign of stress. You may need a treatment for the jaw, such as a special splint or even Botox to relax the muscle.”
Sometimes, people develop TMD without any obvious causes.
A small amount of blood in the sink when you spit out toothpaste might not seem like a big deal, but consistently bleeding gums should not be ignored.
“Bleeding gums are a symptom of gum disease (gingivitis or periodontitis), which can be caused or exacerbated by stress. You might need a gum treatment, such as a deep clean (root planning).”
You should also visit your dentist to check that your brushing and flossing routine is correct.
A dental abscess is a collection of pus – caused by a bacterial infection – that can form inside the teeth, gums, or bone around the mouth.
“An abscess can sometimes occur during times of stress, as your body’s ability to fight off infections can become compromised. Antibiotics or further treatment will be required for this.”
Although dental abscesses rarely cause long-term problems, they can be painful and need attention – as they do not go away on their own. Always see your dentist or GP.
Root canal problems
Damaged tissue or infections within the root canal can be extremely painful – as can the treatment for it. A good reason to keep your stress levels down!
“Issues with root canals – the area inside the tooth – can be caused by stress if the grinding becomes so severe that the nerves of the teeth are exposed. Root canal treatment may then be needed to remove the nerve from the teeth.”
Bad breath, otherwise known as halitosis, is thought to affect as many as one in four people in the UK.
“Stomach acids can build up in times of stress, potentially leading to acid reflux and other compounds that cause bad breath. If this becomes a concern, you will need to see your GP and may need treatment with antacids or other medication. If it persists, further investigation into the stomach lining may be required.”
We recently wrote about the self-injurious habit of cheek biting, a repetitive action that is linked almost entirely to stress and anxiety.
“Biting the inside of your cheeks is a definite sign of stress, or – more accurately – it is a habit people develop to cope with stress. In serious cases, acupuncture or hypnosis are treatment options that can be used to relax and prevent cheek biting.”
If you find yourself persistently injuring the inside of your mouth – whether that be through teeth grinding, cheek biting or otherwise, there are simple steps you can take to reduce stress and promote oral health.
- Identify your triggers. Once you know what sets you off, you can go about stopping it.
- Exercise. Something as simple as a short walk can provide immediate relief in stressful situations.
- Give yourself time to relax before bed. Not only will this improve sleep quality, but it’ll also mean you’re less likely to grind your teeth!
- Avoid unhealthy habits. Not only are smoking, drinking and unhealthy eating proven to make stress worse, but they can cause various oral health issues such as tooth decay, halitosis and gum disease.
- Be kind to yourself. Stress can be self-perpetuating. Maybe to give yourself a break from time to time, accept the things you cannot change and try to be positive.