The Way Stress Affects Your Teeth and Overall Health

October is Mental Health Month. Mental health has arguably the greatest influence over our health and it is so important to keep it as your highest priority even as the month comes to a close.

Did you know that stress and anxiety can impact your oral health?

Stress can impact your oral health because the mouth is one of the most sensitive parts of the body and any disruption in the balance of the jaw can cause tooth and jaw-related problems. If you are physically stressed via poor posture, overly vigorous exercise, dysfunctional breathing or previous injury, the muscles in and around the neck and jaw tighten and go into spasm. This creates a pain pattern that can cause you to clench and grind your teeth (bruxism). Bruxism can lead to headaches, neckaches, jaw aches, cracked teeth, sensitive teeth and poor sleep quality.

Stress can also impact your teeth if you are emotionally stressed with the rigours of everyday life. We are more connected and wired than ever and this means there is little down time for our minds. Emotionally stressed people can also clench and grind their teeth - even in the absence of physical stress.

Dysfunctional breathing (mouth breathing at night) can also cause stress related issues in the mouth. People that mouth breathe are more likely to have gum disease which contributes to an increased inflammatory load on the body. The flow on effect is that these people are more susceptible to a range of systemic inflammatory conditions that are linked to gum disease like heart problems and diabetes.

Mouth breathers are also more likely to have dental decay because they dry out the saliva which has a protective effect for the teeth and gums.

Mouth breathing will also enlarge the tonsils, make the sinuses more inflamed and therefore leave you more susceptible to snoring, sleep disordered breathing and sleep apnea. This is a viscous cycle as these conditions make you more stressed e.g. via an increase in blood pressure while you sleep. If you aren’t breathing well during sleep, you won’t be rested and your risk of anxiety and depression increases.

Poor sleep can also make you choose foods that high in refined sugars. In search of short term energy, we spike our insulin levels with these foods only to come crashing back down. This cycle repeats and this energy ‘roller coaster’ plays havoc with our brain. Eating healthy, natural foods that provide slow and consistent energy are the best way to avoid this issue.

 

What are some of the signs that stress is affecting our oral health?

- Chipping or cracked teeth - this is a sign of grinding.

- Teeth that are sensitive to cold or sore to chew on - also a sign of grinding.

- Increased translucency (they appear more see-through) of the front teeth (this is a sign that your teeth are 'thinning out' due to wear or erosion).

- Red inflamed gums that bleed easily and/or are sore.

- Bad breath (halatosis) - another sign of mouth breathing, gum disease, poor oral hygiene and acid reflux.

- Waking up unrefreshed – this is a sign of sleep apnea.

- Waking up with headaches, neckaches or jaw aches.

 

So, what are some practical tips that you can do to help to fight the effects of stress on oral health?

1.     Practice good oral hygiene - flossing, brushing and oil pulling (with coconut oil).

2.     Get regular massage, physio, chiro, osteo or any other body workers that can help to reduce tension and postural stress which can lead to teeth grinding and chronic pain.

3.     Have regular Epsom salt baths (at least 20mins) for its anti-stress effect.

4.     Take a magnesium supplement daily.

5.     Eat foods that are seasonal, local, organic and whole foods (food that is not in a package). This will reduce the risk of tooth decay, erosion whilst also getting you to chew and breakdown rough foods which will stimulate protective saliva. Foods that are natural and packed with ‘good fats’ will also reduce sugar cravings and provide consistent energy throughout the day.

6.     Drink plenty of water - 2L daily.

Practice daily meditation - not only does this help to overcome stress-related tooth grinding, it also promotes correct breathing patterns to ensure that we breathe through our noses with the tongue at the roof of our mouth (not falling back into the throat, blocking the airway). It also is a great way to maintain saliva quality and quantity in the mouth.

Lewis Ehrlich