How Stress Impacts Your Dental Health

Most of us will have to navigate stressful times at some point, and we all react to this differently. Whether anxiety makes you reach for the ice cream daily or grind your teeth at night, your oral health could be impacted. With Mental Health Awareness Week casting a spotlight on the topic, let’s consider some ways that your teeth could be impacted by your emotional wellbeing – and how to mitigate those effects. Even when you’re feeling the strain of life, having a regular check-up at your dentist is essential. Early diagnosis of any issues can help save your teeth, gums and jaw from the impact of stress. During your visit, you can speak to your dentist about your overall health so they can address the impact of stress on your dental health. Signs of this include:

1. Poor oral hygiene

When we struggle with mental health challenges, it’s all too easy to stop looking after ourselves – and that includes our teeth. As well as our daily flossing and brushing being impacted, this could mean an imbalanced diet. Keep up with your oral health cleaning routine and try to avoid relying on foods that can stain your teeth, such as coffee and red wine. A poor diet and inattention to oral health can cause plaque build-up and caries.

2. Clenched jaw

Constant muscle tension in your jaw from chronic stress can cause temporomandibular joint dysfunction, commonly known as TMJ. This can limit the movement of your jaw and cause pain. TMJ is more common in women and is often characterised by pain around the jaw and face, lack of movement, and clicking when you open your mouth to yawn or chew. A dentist can help identify TMJ disorders and recommend a course of action.

3. Teeth grinding

Teeth grinding – or bruxism – is common when people are stressed or anxious. Often it happens when we are unaware of it – particularly during sleep. Tell-tale signs include ridges on the inside of your mouth where your cheeks are impacted during the night and indentations on your tongue. Teeth grinding causes significant wear and tear of your teeth and can result in them being chipped or coming loose. A dentist may notice signs of bruxism during a check-up – particularly if you’re doing it unconsciously in your sleep. They can also help get you fitted for a tooth guard to protect your teeth at night and recommend other ways to prevent or reduce grinding.

4. Cold sores and ulcers

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus, which is usually inactive unless triggered by stress. Cold sore blisters typically appear on the lips and around the mouth, but can appear on your gums – making it difficult to brush and floss. Cold sores tend to last between 5-7 days, and limited tooth brushing over that period can cause plaque build-up and put you at risk of developing tooth decay or gum disease.

Ulcers or canker sores appear in the mouth and can also be triggered by stress. They need time to heal – there’s no quick fix. They may make eating and drinking certain foods difficult, including rough foods like toast and crisps, and acidic foods or drinks. Continue to brush your teeth as usual if you have canker sores, but avoid using toothpaste containing sodium lauryl sulphate.

How to maintain your oral health when stressed

  1. Remove the source of your stress, if possible
  2. Maintain regular check ups with your dentist
  3. Continue to brush and floss daily
  4. Pursue relaxing hobbies such as meditation, yoga or Pilates to help reduce tension
  5. Avoid developing a reliance or addiction to habits such as excessive alcohol or caffeine, smoking and a poor diet