The economic upheavals of the past 10 years have been difficult for many of us. One surprising aspect of this situation is the mounting evidence that financial challenges (as well as other types of intense stressors) can also impact your oral health.
Stress affects the entire body, making no exceptions for your mouth. Dr. Jacqueline Allen of the Phoenix Endodontic Group explains that there are several oral health conditions that can be caused or exacerbated by periods of high stress.
Bruxism, or teeth grinding, happens when a patient habitually clenches his or her jaw or grinds their teeth together. Often, this happens when a patient is sleeping. Common symptoms of bruxism include a tender jaw muscle, headaches, earaches, and the tips of the teeth appearing flat. Your dentist will be able to tell by looking at the condition of your teeth if you are grinding them.
Stress is a major cause of bruxism. Dr. Allen notes that if bruxism is left untreated, your teeth can become cracked and an infection may occur, which could result in the need for a root canal or other endodontic treatment. If you have this condition, your dentist may recommend the use of a custom-made night mouth guard, which is often effective in preventing additional damage to your teeth.
Another stress-influenced oral health condition is Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, or TMJ, an overuse injury that is related to a frequently clenched jaw. As with bruxism, you may have a headache or earache, or you may experience popping or clicking in your jaw. Treatments include wearing a night mouth guard, practicing relaxation techniques, taking anti-anxiety medications, or having surgery on your jaw joint if the condition is serious enough.
Dr. Allen says that periodontal (gum) disease also has a stress-related component. Elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol may be involved, and those under extreme stress often neglect good oral health habits. Symptoms can include swollen or bleeding gums, bad breath and loosening teeth. Treatments include scaling and root planing the teeth and gum surgery.
For all three of these oral health challenges, one key to successful treatment is to lower your overall stress levels. Eat a healthy diet, make time for exercise, and explore counseling, relaxation techniques or lifestyle changes to reduce or eliminate troublesome stressors.
Dr. Allen says, “Keeping your stress at optimal levels is key to reducing its impact on your oral health.”