Just as stress can affect the entire body, stress can affect oral health and produce a range of less-than-beneficial habits and dental health issues. One of the most common signs of stress detected by dentists is bruxism – grinding and clenching the teeth, often at night and during sleep. Bruxism wears down the surfaces of teeth and can lead to other damage to teeth and gums if left untreated. Teeth grinding and clenching can lead to cracks in teeth and enamel from the unnecessary pressure caused by clenching. The pressure can also weaken teeth within the jaw, increasing risk of tooth loss and problems with the gums.
Some patients bite their nails during stressful times, or chew on other non-food items such as pens, pencils, ice, paperclips, pieces of plastic, and other small items. These non-food items can increase pressure on teeth during the chewing behaviors, and possibly cause chips or cracks in teeth, irritate the gums around teeth, and promote bacteria in the mouth which, in turn, increases risks of gum disease and cavities. Chewing on ice, although technically a “food item”, is frowned upon by professionals worldwide. Ice is extremely cold and can lead to cracks in tooth enamel by causing sudden temperature changes between the inner and outer portions of teeth.
Bruxism wears down the surfaces of teeth and can lead to other damage to teeth and gums if left untreated.
Stress can also weaken the immune system when it is chronic or persistent and lasts for a significant length of time. Food choices during stressful times can also contribute to a weakened immune system, due to insufficient nutritional intake. This can lead to oral health problems, if poor food choices include a lot of sweets, for example. Sore gums, mouth sores, dry lips, and other detectable oral health-related problems can all be signs of stress eating and poor stress management. Poor nutrition can contribute to depression, making the stress last longer and increasing the negative effects of stress throughout everyday life.
Discussing the causes of stress and possible stress management techniques can go a long way in the improvement of oral health checkups and boost at-home oral healthcare habits such as brushing and flossing. While many habits require self-monitoring and patience to overcome, clenching and grinding teeth at night can create a significant challenge for patients as this is done during sleep. A custom mouthguard crafted by a dentist can be made and worn at night while the patient works to break the stress-related habits.
For more information on stress and oral health, bruxism, and customized mouthguards, contact our experienced dentistry team today!