Stress is more than just an inconvenience — it’s a health problem. It can keep you up at night; cause tension and pain in your neck, back, and shoulders; trigger stomach aches and headaches, and if it isn’t handled, can ultimately increase your risk of larger health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.
And of course, like many other health problems, stress can spread its negative effects to your mouth.
How Stress Impacts Oral Health
During a time of high stress, have you ever noticed that you’re clenching your teeth, or even just woken up with a sore jaw? Bruxism, which means the clenching or grinding of teeth, is a common stress response. Some people catch themselves doing it during the day, but for others it’s an unconscious instinct during sleep, making it even harder to catch and prevent.
Bruxism comes with a host of problems with your teeth. The constant muscle strain can create jaw pain and even spur tension headaches, and the grinding can actually start to wear down the biting surfaces of your teeth. The wear and tear caused by bruxism can lead to tooth sensitivity and even chips and cracks. Not to mention that too much pressure on the jaw, particularly over the long term, could lead to the development of TMJ.
If you don’t clench your teeth when you’re stressed, that doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. Studies have shown that high stress levels can make you more likely to develop periodontitis, which is a severe form of gum disease.
When it comes to stress and oral health, there’s one more factor that can’t be ignored: Sleep disorders. Many symptoms that are commonly labeled as a stress response are actually symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. Headaches and bruxism are both well-known symptoms of sleep apnea. And of course, the two can interplay, creating a stressful, sleepless problem that puts your oral health (and your overall health) at even greater risk.
What Can Be Done?
Of course, the first and simplest step, though certainly not the easiest, is to deal with the source of the stress. While stress may seem like something that comes and goes at will, there are steps you can take to help your body and mind handle stress better when it occurs. Learning to meditate, ensuring that you have an outlet for physical exercise, and keeping an eye on your sleep and diet can all help mitigate stress when you notice it cropping up.
But if you find that your symptoms persist or recur, it may be time to take some more serious steps. If bruxism is a problem, we can provide you with an oral appliance that can be worn at night to prevent you from doing damage to your teeth while you snooze. And if you’ve already done some damage, you may want to pursue a little reconstructive dentistry to make sure that wear and tear doesn’t get worse.
Most important of all, if you have symptoms of TMJ or sleep apnea, it’s imperative to speak with a medical professional. TMJ can grow worse over time without treatment, and sleep apnea is associated with a wide variety of terrifying health risks. The sooner you’re diagnosed, the more help you can get.