The Effects of Stress on Dental Health

The Effects of Stress on Dental Health

Apr 29, 2014

Did you know that April is Stress Awareness Month? Stress is a serious problem in the U.S. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 77 percent of Americans experience physical symptoms caused by stress. In addition, 33 percent feel they are living with extreme stress. Some of the symptoms of stress have a significant effect on dental health. Here are a few examples, along with potential treatments:

Bruxism (Teeth Grinding)

According to a stress management expert at Legacy alcohol rehab, stress is one of the most common causes of bruxism, or teeth grinding at night. Most people are unaware they are grinding their teeth during sleep until someone else tells them, usually because of the disturbing noise they are making. However, bruxism causes a number of health problems, including:

  • Neck and jaw pain
  • Toothaches
  • Ear discomfort
  • Headaches
  • Tooth damage

Luckily a dentist can use porcelain veneers, composite fillings or crowns to repair chips and cracks caused by tooth grinding. Missing teeth due to grinding can be replaced with crowns, bridges, dentures or implants. In order to prevent future tooth grinding, your dentist can fit you for a night guard that takes the pressure off the jaw and keeps your teeth from touching while you are asleep.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea occurs when you have one or more pauses in breathing, from a few seconds to a few minutes, while sleeping. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NIH), it can occur as many as 30 or more times an hour. The result is a poor night’s sleep that leaves you very tired the next day. Other more serious effects include:

  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Heart problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke

Thousands of dentists are trained to help manage snoring and sleep apnea with oral appliance therapy. A sleep appliance resembles a mouth guard. It’s worn during sleep to keep the airway unobstructed. If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, tell your dentist.

Mouth Sores

There are several types of mouth sores caused by stress. Canker sores are small white or gray sores with a red border. Sometimes there are several canker sores present at the same time, but they are not contagious. If you choose not to treat them, canker sore usually heal in about one to two weeks. There are over-the-counter anesthetics available at the drugstore, and sometimes the dentist will prescribe antibiotics or apply an oral bandage.

Cold sores, or fever blisters, are fluid-filled blisters found around the lips and other areas near the mouth. They are caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 and are very contagious. They usually heal within a week, but over-the-counter topical anesthetics can ease discomfort. Cold sores are chronic. Sometimes dentists will prescribe antiviral drugs to reduce the number of outbreaks.

Ignoring Dental Hygiene

When people are under extreme stress, they often neglect their teeth. Skipping brushing and flossing can cause a lot of damage. If you already have gum disease, it can quickly progress. Unfortunately, it can be easy to miss dental visits when you are not feeling well emotionally. Not visiting the dentist regularly is very serious because small problems can grow out of control without treatment.

Although it can be difficult to commit to dental hygiene when you are feeling stressed, it is essential that you take care of your teeth and gums. Many people have found success treating stress with exercise. It boosts energy, which can help you to make your mouth a priority.

If you are concerned about extreme stress, don’t ignore it. There can be enormous health ramifications for extreme stress. Speak with your dentist about your concerns and seek help from a medical professional if necessary.

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