When work is taking its toll, don’t just grin and bear it — that smile of yours may be at risk too. In addition to the more commonly known mental and physical ailments, stress can pose adverse effects on your oral health, both directly and indirectly. So take a break from the daily grind, relax your shoulders and read on. Your teeth will thank you, as will the rest of your body when you are more happy and healthy.
What does stress do?
Stress forces the brain to release stress hormones into the bloodstream, which instigates a “fight or flight” response. If this is prolonged, you might experience the slowing down of mental processes, increased blood pressure and a lowered immunity. The latter, in particular, directly causes oral problems such as canker sores: small, red-and-white mouth ulcers that usually form in ugly groups. Thankfully, these painful ulcers can easily be cured by using pain-relieving gels or creams, and by avoiding spicy and deep fried foods.
Another direct and perhaps more pronounced effect of stress on your teeth is bruxism — the constant, sometimes unconscious, clenching and grinding of teeth. This can lead to devastating results: cracked teeth, wearing down of the biting surface of teeth, headaches and serious problems with the temporomandibular joint, which is the joint that connects the upper and lower jaws. If you find yourself a victim of this, you might want to visit your dentist to recommend a mouth guard; it’ll reduce the ill-effects of this awful habit.
DID YOU KNOW?
Sleep bruxism, essentially grinding your teeth while asleep, is the third-most common sleep disorder after snoring and sleep talking; it affects up to 20% of Americans. Researchers have found that people who tend to grind their teeth at night are more likely to feel stress while they are awake, and aren’t able to handle their stress in a positive way. Grinding even affects children: In India, 30% of children aged five and six years suffer from bruxism, although this figure could be much higher as many people are unaware of the habit.
The indirect effects of stress are no less dangerous. Being under constant or extreme stress can make you neglect basic oral care steps, such as brushing, flossing and rinsing. It can also lead to bad habits, including smoking, a poor diet and alcohol abuse, all of which are detrimental to oral health. Picking up new ways to alleviate stress — meditation, exercise, yoga and proper sleeping habits, for example — or simply taking a break from work will keep your mouth, and mind, in good spirits.