2020 has been a stressful year. According to the American Psychological Association, “The average reported stress level for U.S. adults related to the coronavirus pandemic is 5.9. […] This is significantly higher than the average stress level reported in the 2019 Annual Stress in America survey […] and marks the first significant increase in average reported stress since the survey began in 2007.” Stress was identified from a 10 point scale.
And our bodies, and our teeth, are showing the effects of this unusual amount of stress. That’s why it wasn’t surprising to your Houston area dentists to read a news story in today’s New York Times titled “Dentists Are Seeing an Epidemic of Cracked Teeth. What’s Going On?”
According to the dentist who wrote the article, “When I reopened my practice in early June, the fractures started coming in: at least one a day, every single day that I’ve been in the office. On average, I’m seeing three to four; the bad days are six-plus fractures. What’s going on? One obvious answer is stress. From COVID-induced nightmares to ‘doomsurfing’ to ‘coronaphobia,’ it’s no secret that pandemic-related anxiety is affecting our collective mental health. That stress, in turn, leads to clenching and grinding, which can damage the teeth.”
But that’s not all. The sudden shift to working from home has reinforced bad habits that we turn to when we are stressed. Today, we’re going to spend some time explaining how stress affects your teeth and what you can do about it.
How We Handle Stress Affects Our Oral Health
When we are stressed out, we don’t take care of ourselves as well as we should. Think about it. We started eating poorly. Add in working from home during the pandemic and we find ourselves eating all day long (and our go-to comfort foods aren’t exactly healthy). We lose sleep. We bite our nails. We clench our teeth. All of these reactions to stress are dangerous to our teeth.
The Types of Stress-Related Oral Health Conditions
When we react to stress as discussed above, there is a myriad of tooth problems that can result.
- Jaw Pain (TMJ) – TMJ stands for Temporomandibular joint syndrome. This type of disorder can cause pain to your jaw and surrounding areas. TMJ occurs when you clench your jaw. Often, those suffering from TMJ clench their teeth as well causing toothache and damage to the teeth.
- Toothache – As mentioned above, clenching can lead to toothaches.
- Cracked Teeth – Clenching or grinding teeth can result in cracked teeth.
- Migraines – The Cleveland Clinic explains, “Your jaw muscles tighten when you grind or clench your teeth – or do things such as chew gum. The pain from your jaw created by the clenching then travels to other places in the skull, causing headaches or, in severe cases, migraines.”
- Sores in or on the Mouth – Stress can also cause sores in or on your mouth, such as canker sores and cold sores. Canker sores look like white spots with red circling them inside the mouth. Cold sores, also called fever blisters, are filled with liquid, and appear on the lips.
- Poor Oral Hygiene – When we are overly stressed, we stop taking care of our teeth as we should. When we stop brushing regularly, we open ourselves up to a host of oral health problems.
- Gum Disease – According to Harper’s Bazaar, “Stress from burnout can affect your immune system which fights against the bacteria that causes periodontal disease, making a person more susceptible to oral infection, inflamed and bleeding gums, and eventually gum disease.”
- Teeth Grinding – Severe teeth grinding is known as bruxism. This occurs when you clench your teeth throughout the day or as you sleep. Often, those who clench their teeth, grind their teeth at night. Bruxism causes all sorts of issues, such as jaw pain, tooth sensitivity, chipped teeth, headaches, and loss of enamel.
- Dry Mouth – If you have ever had to talk in a stressful situation and realized your mouth is dry, then you have experience stress-related dry mouth. Ongoing dry mouth is a problem because our saliva serves a purpose in keeping our teeth healthy and strong.
Ways to Ease Stress-Related Oral Health Problems
So now the question is what do you do if you think your stress level is affected your teeth. Ideally, you want to decrease your stress, specifically in ways that relate to your teeth. Here are some suggestions:
- Pay Attention to Your Teeth – As you work, take note of the placement of your teeth. If you are clenching your teeth, relax your jaw. Ideally, your teeth should not be touching unless you are chewing food.
- Wear a Night Guard – If you appear to be grinding your teeth in your sleep, then invest in a night guard. A quality night guard will prevent you from grinding your teeth together as you sleep, which will protect the enamel.
- Correct Your Posture – You might be surprised to learn that your posture affects your teeth. The New York Times article explains, “If you’re wondering why a dentist cares about ergonomics, the simple truth is that nerves in your neck and shoulder muscles lead into the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, which connects the jawbone to the skull. Poor posture during the day can translate into a grinding problem at night.”
- Watch Your Diet – When we feel stressed, we tend to eat and drink things that aren’t the best for our teeth. Therefore, avoid eating sugary, starchy foods, and drinking carbonated or sugary beverages. Additionally, caffeine and alcohol increase your risk of bruxism.
- Go to Bed Easier – Try to relax before you go to bed to lessen teeth grinding and clenching. For example, take time to quiet your mind by doing some calm, breathing exercises. Switch to blue light on your devices to make it easier to go to sleep.
- Visit Your Dentist – If you are experiencing any of the stress-related issues we’ve discussed, schedule an appointment with Greenspoint Dental in Houston before it becomes an even bigger problem.