Mental health has arguably one of the greatest influences over our overall health, and as Mental Health Month wraps, it’s important to continue keeping our minds clear and our stresses low. Stress can trigger a wide range of health issues, starting with the mouth. We talk to holistic dentist Dr Lewis Ehrlich on how stress can affect your teeth, oral health, and the flow on effect to our general wellbeing.
How does stress and anxiety affect our oral health?
Stress has a profound impact your oral health as 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 in turn leads to headaches, neck aches, jaw aches, cracked teeth, sensitive teeth and poor sleep quality.
Dysfunctional breathing (mouth breathing at night) can also cause stress related issues in the mouth. People who 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 that can leave you even more stressed. If you aren’t breathing well during sleep, you won’t be rested and your risk of anxiety and depression increases.
What are some of the signs that stress is affecting our oral health?
- Chipping or cracked teeth.
- Sensitive teeth
- 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, sore and bleeding gums.
- Bad breath (halatosis)
- Waking up unrefreshed
- Headaches, neck-aches or jaw aches.
What are some practical tips that you can do to help to fight the effects of stress on oral health?
- Practice good oral hygiene - flossing, brushing and oil pulling (with coconut oil).
- 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.
- Have regular Epsom salt baths (at least 20mins) for its anti-stress effect.
- Take a magnesium supplement daily.
- Eat foods that are seasonal, local, organic and whole foods (food that is not in a package). Foods that are natural and packed with ‘good fats’ will also reduce sugar cravings and provide consistent energy throughout the day
- Chew and breakdown rough foods to stimulate protective saliva.
- 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).