Mental Health Awareness Week: how stress affects oral health

10 May 2022
3 min read

The impact prolonged stress has on our body and wellbeing – including our dental health – can be significant. There are a range of common signs and symptoms to look out for, from teeth grinding to dry mouth, which may indicate that stress is having a negative effect on your oral health.

With the arrival of Mental Health Awareness Week (May 9-16, 2022) Amanda Sheehan, dental hygienist and clinical support specialist at TePe, shares her expert insight in the effect stress can have on your teeth and gums, and how to manage the symptoms at home.

Gum disease
Stress can impair the immune system and be a contributing factor to inflamed gums – known as gingivitis. If left untreated, this can progress to advanced gum disease, which can eventually loosen the foundations holding your teeth in place, and can result in tooth loss.

It’s important to establish a regular effective dental regime to help maintain our oral health. This is achieved by regularly cleaning between the teeth using interdental brushes (such as TePe) or floss and twice daily toothbrushing. During times of stress these good habits can lapse, and this can in turn can contribute to other problems, therefore it is crucial that we continue to maintain good oral hygiene practices at all times.

Grinding or clenching your teeth, known as bruxism, typically happens when you are asleep, but it can also be a symptom of stress.

If you grind your teeth often, you could experience heightened tooth sensitivity, chips, flattened tips, or sharp edges in the teeth as well as difficulties in opening and closing your jaw. In more severe cases, excessive grinding can contribute to tooth loss.

When experiencing stress, you may also repeatedly clench and unclench your jaw. This can lead to temporomandibular (TMD) disorders which involve the jaw joints. TMD disorders can lead to chronic pain in the muscles and joint of the jaw, neck and back or a popping and clicking of the jaw. A dental professional can help identify the problem and offer practical advice and possible treatment options such as eliminating stress relating factors.

Dry mouth 
Saliva has an important role to play in good oral hygiene. It helps to cleanse the mouth to reduce bacteria which prevents plaque from building up on and around the teeth. With less saliva, the teeth become more vulnerable to cavities, and the soft tissues in your mouth can become sensitive and susceptible to infection.

Dry mouth can occur when your salivary glands don’t produce enough saliva. Stress, as well as age, medication and diseases can all contribute to dry mouth. Common symptoms include a ‘sticky’ feeling in the mouth, stringy saliva, and a sore throat. Bad breath and dry lips can also be indications of a dry mouth.

Maintaining good oral hygiene is extra important when you suffer from dry mouth. Choose a toothbrush with soft and gentle filaments, brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day and make sure to clean between your teeth daily.

Drinking water often, avoiding acidic food and use of tobacco and chewing on sugar-free gum or lozenges can all help to manage the symptoms at home. Dental advice should be sought for the management of persistent problems and help eliminate causes

Tooth decay
Tooth decay and stress are linked through many different factors. Stress can lead to numerous lifestyle changes such as a neglected mouth that can create an environment that can lead to tooth decay.

As well as the involuntary causes, many people may find that they turn to comfort foods (such as chocolate and sweets), as well as alcohol or tobacco when they are stressed, which unsurprisingly are very harmful to the protective coating of enamel we have on our teeth. We may also feel too tired or distracted to brush our teeth as much as we know we should and too often that important before bedtime brush can get missed.

As with many conditions, oral health and stress often go hand in hand. As much as stress can wreak havoc on your teeth and gums, poor oral health can exacerbate stress because you may be concerned about symptoms such as tooth and gum pain or the way your teeth look. If you have any concerns related to your dental health, it is important that you visit your dentist and hygienist regularly to put your mind at ease!

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