How Can Stress Affect Your Teeth?
According to the American Institute of Stress1, 44% of Americans feel more stressed than they did five years ago, and about 20% of people experience extreme stress. Stress is a large contributing factor in many diseases and other physical health conditions.
Though even thinking about stress can be stressful, it pays to be aware of how stress can affect you. Oral symptoms can provide clues to how stress is affecting your body, so it is important to be aware of a few ways that stress can affect your teeth.
Teeth Grinding and Clenching
Grinding or clenching your teeth frequently is technically called bruxism.2 You might not even know that you have bruxism since the grinding and clenching typically happens at night while you are asleep. If you notice that the tips of your teeth appear flatter than they once did, or if your teeth become extremely sensitive, you may have bruxism. A sore jaw may be another symptom of teeth grinding.
Your dentist can determine if bruxism is a serious problem for you and prescribe a treatment, which may include wearing a custom mouth guard in bed to minimize the impact of teeth grinding.
Stress can increase your chances of experiencing gum disease. Researchers theorize that cortisol, a hormone produced by stress, can lead to increased destruction of gums and jaw bone, as well as a suppressed immune system, allowing bacteria to flourish.3
Gum disease typically starts out as gingivitis and can progress to a more severe form of gum disease called periodontitis if left untreated. Symptoms of gum disease include red, swollen gums that bleed easily. In periodontitis, the gums pull away from the teeth, creating pockets that encourage infection.
Managing your stress and maintaining good oral hygiene can greatly reduce your risk of contracting gum disease.
TMD and TMJ
Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) describe a range of different disorders that affect the muscles and joints in your jaw and neck such as pain in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Many people who have pain in the TMJ are describing a condition that is exclusive to the joint that connects your lower jaw to the rest of your skull. If you experience sore jaw muscles or popping and clicking in your jaw, you may have TMD or TMJ. You might also notice severe pain or trouble moving your jaw up and down.
Constant clenching of your teeth due to stress and frustration, such as in teeth grinding, can contribute to TMD and TMJ development. This negatively impacts your teeth in many ways, so it is important to seek treatment right away if you have signs of either condition.
Dry mouth occurs when your saliva glands do not produce enough saliva to adequately moisten the inside of your mouth.
Stress may be at the root of dry mouth conditions in that some medications, including those you might take for stress, can cause dry mouth. Additionally, stress might also move you to breathe more through your mouth, reducing salivary flow.
Reduced salivary flow can cause difficulties in tasting, chewing, swallowing, and speaking. It can also increase the chance of developing several types of dental problems including:
- Dental decay
- Demineralization of teeth
- Tooth sensitivity
- Oral infections4
Drinking water and using a specially designed mouthwash may help relieve your dry mouth to a degree, but it is important to address the underlying cause of your dry mouth, whether that is stress, allergies, medication, or another health condition such as diabetes.
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Canker sores, otherwise known as mouth ulcers, are painful sores inside your mouth. If you clean your teeth too hard, or if you chew your tongue or cheeks, you may experience canker sores. Research also indicates that stress can increase the risk of developing canker sores.5
Most canker sores will go away on their own. To reduce discomfort, you can treat them yourself by using over-the-counter medications or home remedies such as a salt water rinse. However, if you experience severe or persistent canker sores, you should seek professional medical advice.
Stress can weaken your immune system, increasing your risk for oral infections. When you add this increased risk to some of the other oral stress-related symptoms, oral infections become even more likely.
Maintaining good oral hygiene habits, properly managing stress, and eating immune-boosting foods can minimize the possibility you develop an infection that could harm your oral health.
What to Do About Stress-Related Dental Issues
Look for ways to mitigate your stress. This may include adjusting your schedule to get adequate sleep, including physical activity in your routine, deep breathing or mindfulness meditation, and spending quality time with loved ones. Your physician can give you tips on how to deal with stress and its symptoms if you’re concerned about proper stress management.
Visit your dentist yearly to help identify any dental issues and mitigate the effects of stress on your dental health.
Although stress can be unavoidable, there are things you can do to stop stress from taking a heavy toll on your oral health. By being aware of the symptoms of stress-related oral conditions, you can maintain proper dental health throughout your life. If you have concerns about your current dental insurance coverage, it is important to review your policy.
1. https://www.stress.org/stress-is-killing-you/ (Last accessed January 2020)
2. https://www.guardiandirect.com/resources/articles/why-are-my-teeth-sore-when-i-wake (Last accessed January 2020)
3. https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/stress-can-cause-periodontal-disease-study-1.690604 (Last accessed January 2020)
4. https://www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/xerostomia (Last accessed January 2020)
5. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/canker-sore/symptoms-causes/syc-20370615 (Last accessed January 2020)
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