Wednesday 1st November is Stress Awareness Day and we thought we’d take a closer look at how stress affects your mouth.
We all feel stressed from time to time – it’s a natural flight or fight reaction that is supposed to be reserved for life-threatening situations. However, in our modern and relatively risk-free lives, this natural response often finds an outlet in our family, social and work situations.
But stress doesn’t just take a toll on your mental health. It’s also damaging to your mouth. Here’s how:
The effects of stress on the mouth
Teeth grinding & clenching
Otherwise known as bruxism, we’re often not aware we’re grinding our teeth in our sleep or clenching our jaws during the day. Signs include waking with a sore jaw, flattened tips of the teeth or extreme sensitivity. Your dentist will be able to fit you with a mouth guard, but it’s also important to recognise and deal with the cause.
The temporomandibular joint is a large band of muscles that operates the neck and jaw. Bruxism or stress can cause these to tighten. The result can be a range of symptoms from difficulty opening and closing the mouth, to pain eating and even tenderness around the ears. You may also notice a popping or clicking sound coming from your jaw. As with bruxism, jaw exercises or a mouth guard may help.
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus and can appear on the outside of your mouth, usually on or at the corners of your lips. They often flare up at times of stress or low immunity and are sore and full of fluid. However, they can be treated with over the counter medication.
The cause behind these little spots inside your mouth isn’t quite known but it’s thought to be a low immune system, which means stress could be a trigger to developing them. They have a white or grey base with reddish sides and can make eating or drinking difficult.
Signs of gum disease include swollen, tender and bleeding gums, as well as sensitivity, and there has been some research into the effect of the emotions on the development of gum disease.
Researchers from the State University of New York at Buffalo, the University of North Carolina and the University of Michigan discovered that gum disease in patients studied over a 12-month period was worse as the types of stress worsened. Financial stress came out top in the risk stakes – but once the source of the money issues was treated, participants’ risk of gum disease returned to normal.
Tips to beat stress
If you think there aren’t enough hours in the day, you might be tempted to skip good dental habits from time to time. But oral hygiene is more important than ever when you’re stressed! If you’re already feeling run down, not brushing properly or flossing could exacerbate problems.
Tackling your problem is the best way to resolve it, or seeking help from a doctor, therapist or counsellor. Taking a little ‘me time’ to exercise, enjoy a hobby, meditate, spend with loved ones, or even just write down your problems can help.
Why not also practise mindfulness techniques to bring you back into the moment? When you’re feeling stressed, simply take a moment to try and focus on five different sounds you can hear.
When you stop rushing from place to place, project to project and prioritise your own health and well-being, you’ll find you eat healthier and pay more attention to your needs. Of course, brushing, flossing and drinking lots of water helps your mouth too.
For more advice on any specific dental problems you’re experiencing, speak to our Notting Hill dental team at Number 18.