Brexit? A Christmas Election? It’s Enough To Make You Grind Your Teeth!

How times of increased stress and anxiety can cause problems for our oral health

Head and jaw painIt might be that you are revelling in the intricacies of the political world at the moment. It is probably more likely though that you are wishing that politicians would disappear from our TV screens, at least for a little while, to give us some breathing space.

Whatever your view, research has found that anxiety levels are on the increase at the moment, perhaps unsurprisingly.

Whether this has affected you or not, there is little doubt that stress is a much more significant issue in our lives than it was in the past. From Brexit to personal concerns, stress is on the rise, and with it comes a whole host of medical problems.

General and oral health

There is plenty of evidence to indicate that stress can contribute to medical issues such as heart disease. We will leave the discussion on that to those who are experts in that field though and concentrate on our own area of interest, oral health.

At the Synergy Clinic in Addlestone, whilst we are able to offer a large range of restorative dental treatments to repair damaged teeth, we believe in taking a more holistic and preventative approach where possible. Stress reduction can certainly help with this.

Impact of stress on our teeth

The most obviously damaging stress related habit is when we grind our teeth. We might consciously notice ourselves doing this as we watch the news on TV, but most tooth grinding occurs at night while we are asleep. This makes it especially difficult to control as we are not aware that we are doing it. Unfortunately there is no medical panacea to prevent this and whilst mouth guards can help to protect the teeth from damage, only addressing the root of the stress can really help to break this tooth damaging habit.

Another issue is that when we are stressed, many of us turn to other bad habits which can damage our teeth.

Smoking – Particularly recent ex-smokers are likely to take up the habit again. Once you have done this, it can be very difficult to stop again. As we know from previous blogs gum disease is more likely amongst smokers than those who don’t smoke. In addition to gum disease and potential tooth loss, oral cancers are more likely too.

‘Comfort’ eating – Being honest, who amongst us reaches for a salad when we are stressed? Far more likely is that many of us reach for the biscuits and cakes and food that is generally high in sugar content. We don’t think we really need to tell our Addlesone patients why this is a bad thing and that more fillings, and potentially extractions, are likely to follow if this habit is maintained.

Alcohol – Turning to drink has been a long held ‘tradition’ at times of stress. As most who have done this know though, this resolves nothing and can even create stress problems of its own. Gingivitis, bad breath and possible oral cancers are more likely if you drink too much alcohol, so please try to keep it in moderation.

Reducing stress levels

Reducing stress is easier said than done, especially if we are going through a personal crisis that is causing it. Whilst a certain level of stress is normal, and sometimes even essential, where stress levels are too high, we need to do what we can to reduce them.

The most obvious and effective thing to do is to address the root cause. This may be something as simple as turning off the TV and avoiding the news for a while, or a lengthier method such as undergoing therapy to address an underlying issue. As in the latter case, this can take time, but there are some steps that you can take to help along the way.

It is important to say that we are not experts in this field and some of these may work for some and not for others. It will though, at least help to give you a few ideas on how to reduce your stress levels. But of course, always seek advice from your GP.

Breathe – When we are stressed our breathing is often quite shallow. Try to take time away from whatever you are doing to breath in a deeper more relaxed manner. The increased oxygen intake will also help with your stress.

Meditate – This can be a great way of relaxing. You can find more detailed information with a quick search of the internet, but the following is a simple method.

  • Find somewhere comfortable to sit (no need for the classic crossed legs position)
  • Turn off potential distractions such as your TV, any music and preferably your phone
  • Start to breathe in a relaxed manner focussing on your breath. If it helps, you could have a simple object in your mind’s eye; a candle is a classic one
  • Try to do this for ten minutes or longer a couple of times a day or when stress levels are especially high
  • Try to enjoy it and don’t see it as a task that has to be done

Fresh air – ‘forest bathing’ is a bit of a trend right now but is actually little more than a walk in nature. Many people find that this helps, even if your only available nature is a nearby park. Gentle exercise and fresh air are great for helping to reduce stress.

Restoring the damage

Some dental conditions that might occur when stress is high can be treated even while the stress is present. Others are better left until it has passed.

Gum disease can and should be treated to prevent further deterioration. If you are going through a lengthy stressful period, we would recommend that you increase the frequency of your dental hygienist appointments to help make sure that your gums remain healthy.

Where damage, such as a broken tooth, has been caused by teeth grinding, it is best if this can be fully restored once the habit is broken. There is always a risk of repeat damage of a restored tooth until you have stopped grinding your teeth. Dental implants should generally not be placed at this time as grinding and clenching may cause damage to the implant and surrounding bone tissue. Where you are in discomfort or further damage is likely to the structure of the tooth, we will discuss the best treatment plan with you.

If you are going through a stressful period, don’t forget to keep looking after your teeth and gums. By doing so, you will hopefully have healthy teeth when you come through on the other side of it. If you would like to make an appointment at the Synergy Clinic or need advice, please call our Addleston dental practice on 01932 856541.