You have too much to do at work. You have to juggle a million tasks between your children, your spouse, and errands — not to mention your mother-in-law is in town for the weekend. We all have those days, and those days can add immense stress to your life. That stress affects more than just your emotional health; it physically alters you as well.
Your mouth already experiences daily wear and tear that you need to prevent as much as possible. If you are too stressed, this adds another layer of factors fighting against the health of your mouth. It starts before you even realize — you are stressed out thinking about everything you need to do, and then you notice you’ve been clenching your teeth for the past few minutes. Depending on how you handle stress, you may be doing this multiple times per day, which takes a toll on your mouth.
Signs of Stress Impacting Your Oral Health
1. Poor At Home Oral Hygiene
When we are stressed self-care may become less important. We can start over indulging in comfort foods high in carbs, sugar, and caffeine. A poor diet and ignoring our regular oral hygiene routine can lead to plaque buildup, caries, and even tooth loss.
2. Dry Mouth
Saliva keeps teeth moist, helps fight bacteria, and helps removes food particles from your teeth. But when you are trying to manage increased stress, your saliva production can be reduced. This can result in increased plaque buildup and a higher likelihood of dental problems.
3. Clenched Jaws
The constant muscle tension in your jaw that can result from chronic stress can cause TMD or temporomandibular disorder. This condition causes pain in your temporomandibular joint (TMJ), your jaws, and around your ears. You may also experience difficulty opening your mouth or chewing food or even hear a clicking noise. If left untreated, bruxism can also destroy dental restorations (fillings, crowns, bridges, etc.) that you’ve had done, creating more pain and costing more money.
4. Teeth Grinding
Teeth grinding or bruxism is a common symptom of stress or anxiety. This is often an unconscious action so many people are unaware of their teeth grinding, especially if they are grinding their teeth while they sleep. Grinding teeth results in significant wear and tear on your teeth. This can lead to damage to the enamel, chipped teeth, loose teeth, increased sensitivity, and pain in your temples.
5. Decreased Immune Response
Stress often has a detrimental effect on your immune system. A reduced immune response makes it harder to fight off infections, and high levels of cortisol ( a hormone related to stress) lead to protein production in the gums causing inflammation and increasing the likelihood of developing gum diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis.
6. Cold Sore Blisters
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. Many people can go for months without dealing with a cold sore however increased stress is a common trigger. Cold sores typically appear on the lips or corners of the mouth, in some instances they can also appear on your gums leading to difficulty brushing and flossing.
How to Prevent Teeth Grinding and Clenching
Since one of the main causes of teeth grinding and clenching is stress, the best way to stop is to reduce your stress. Hold on — put down that glass of chardonnay or moonshine you have after work to unwind (alcohol increases the likelihood of teeth grinding while sleeping). Here are some stress-management techniques that will help reduce your overall stress.
- Exercise. Not only does this release endorphins to help combat stress, but at the end of the day, you’ll be too tired to have stress-inducing thoughts.
- Autogenic relaxation. This method involves “commanding” your body to relax. This takes a lot of practice but can be very effective once learned. Learn more about autogenic relaxation here.
- Visualization. Trying to use all five of your senses, imagine a scenario that is relaxing. For example, if you imagine yourself in a forest, listen to the sway of the branches, feel the warm light creeping between the trees, and note the scent of pine needles.
- Listen to your favorite music. Classical is always a reliable genre to relax to, but listen to the type of music that helps you unwind.
These techniques will only work if you allow them to. When using them, ensure you have an open mind and allow yourself to relax. Everyone is different, and it will take time to find what relaxes you, as well as mastering the technique itself. The benefits of stress-management strategies will not only help your teeth-grinding issue but also provide benefits for many other health issues you may be experiencing.
Other Stress Reducing Tips to Consider
- If you notice throughout the day that you are still clenching, stick the tip of your tongue between your teeth. This will force you to relax your jaw muscles.
- According to the TMJ Association, take anti-inflammatory medicine (such as ibuprofen) to help with swelling and pain until you can get your teeth grinding and TMJ/TMD under control. Check with your physician to see if you are able to take anti-inflammatory medicines.
- Place a warm washcloth on your jaw before you go to bed to help relax your muscles.
If you try these stress-relieving techniques and are still experiencing pain related to clenching and grinding, your Palmdale, CA dentist can do an examination to determine the best course of action. In most cases, your dentist can create a mouth guard/splint to prevent clenching and grinding.
Additional Dental Services May Include:
- Managing pain with a special diet
- Stretching exercises
- Anti-inflammatory medications
For more information about stress and your dental health, request an appointment at AV Sierra Dental Center by calling 661.202.3542 today.
Stress management. (n.d.). Retrieved July 12, 2016, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/relaxation-technique/art-20045368
Teeth Grinding (Bruxism): Causes and Treatments. (n.d.). Retrieved July 12, 2016, from http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/teeth-grinding-bruxism
TMJ Association, Ltd. (n.d.). Retrieved July 13, 2016, from http://www.tmj.org/site/page?pageId=257