Do you feel stressed out? You’re not alone! According to stress.org, 44% of adults feel more stressed than they did 5 years ago, and around 20% report feelings of extreme stress. While the effects on the body are well-known, you may be surprised to learn that stress impacts teeth as well. Keep reading to learn about the 4 ways your dental health can suffer from stress and what you can do to protect your smile, no matter how stressed out you are!
1. Gum Disease
Chronic stress affects your immune system, which makes it harder for you to fight off infections in every part of your body, including your gums. When your immunity is compromised, your gums are more susceptible to bacteria in your mouth that cause inflammation (i.e. bleeding, tender, or swollen gums) and gum disease.
In turn, gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss and increases your risk for general health problems like heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and even some cancers.
2. Clenching and Grinding
It’s no surprise that stress is directly related to nighttime clenching and grinding, which can cause multiple other issues such as:
- Fractures or chips
- Clicking or popping in the TMJ
- A flattened chewing surface on the back teeth
- Jaw pain
- Trauma to the inside of the cheeks
If you think you may be clenching and grinding at night, ask a dentist at your next checkup if a nightguard would be helpful.
3. TMJ Disorder
Many people inadvertently clench their jaws in stressful situations like running late, sitting in traffic, or having a tense conversation. Clenching overworks your temporomandibular joint and, if it occurs regularly, can lead to TMJ disorder (symptoms include stiffness, pain, clicking or popping, lockjaw, difficulty chewing, and more).
4. Canker Sores
Canker sores often flare up in times of stress and can occur on your lips, tongue, gums, and other soft tissues in your mouth. They can be fairly uncomfortable but typically heal on their own in 1-2 weeks. While canker sores can be caused by a variety of factors, stress management techniques are one good way to keep them at bay.
How Can You Manage Stress?
It’s not realistic to eliminate stress completely, but there are some ways to manage it. Good lifestyle choices such as eating a healthy diet and limiting caffeine and alcohol will certainly help. Relaxation techniques also make a difference, including deep breathing, yoga, meditation, and exercise. In fact, studies have shown that just a short walk outside can be very effective.
And to help your teeth and gums stay healthy and minimize the dental work you need, practice good oral hygiene habits at home and schedule regular checkups with a dentist. After all, dental problems are the last thing you need when you’re trying to manage stress!
About the Author
Dr. Kelly Blair is a family dentist with nearly 15 years of experience who has seen firsthand how much stress affects her patients’ teeth. In addition to providing outstanding restorative treatment when necessary, she always educates her patients about managing stress to prevent dental problems. If you have questions about how stress impacts teeth, she can be reached via her website.