Key Takeaways

  • Stress is a contributing factor to serious oral-health conditions, including gum disease, teeth grinding and dry mouth.
  • Your dentist can detect the oral signs of stress and can be your first defense against the impact on your dental health.
  • Talk to your dentist about any fears or anxiety. There are many options available, including anti-anxiety medication taken before an appointment or conscious sedation.

Stress

It can be easy to overlook the effect stress has on dental health but the reality is, our mouths can be just as impacted by it as the rest of our bodies are.

Stress can make people neglect their daily dental care routines. They may not brush or floss as often as they should or miss dental appointments. People under stress sometimes make damaging lifestyle choices like smoking, drinking too much alcohol and eating more unhealthy foods. This can increase your risk of getting tooth decay.

Stress also plays a role in serious dental health conditions, including:

Teeth grinding (bruxism). People under stress may clench or grind their teeth, especially during sleep. Over a long period of time, this can wear down the teeth making them more sensitive to pain, loosening and cracking.

Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) affects the jaws joints and groups of muscles that help us chew, swallow, speak and yawn. Symptoms include sore jaw muscles, headaches and problems opening or closing your mouth. Bruxism is a major cause of TMD since clenching your jaw muscles can cause them to ache.

Gum (periodontal) disease. Research has shown that stress affects our immune systems which increases our chances of infections, including the bacteria that cause gum disease.

Dry mouth (xerostomia) doesn’t just happen when you don’t drink enough water, it can also be caused by medications to treat stress. Saliva is vital to keep your mouth moist, wash away food and neutralize the acids from food and beverages. Left untreated, dry mouth can damage your teeth.

Canker Sores are white spots found on the soft tissue of the mouth. They are harmless but can be painful. They usually go away on their own within one to two weeks. Your dentist can prescribe a topical treatment or rinse to help ease the pain and discomfort.

Prevention

It may be impossible to eliminate all stress from your life. But there are some things you can do to prevent it from damaging your dental health.

  • Find relaxation techniques or exercises to help you cope with stress.
  • Brush at least twice a day and floss daily.
  • See your dentist regularly.
  • Talk to your dentist about getting a custom-fitted nightguard to protect your teeth while you sleep.
  • Eat a balanced diet, with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Stay active. If you don’t have time to exercise, a 30-minute walk every day is a good start.
  • Get plenty of sleep.

Anxiety

Many people experience some anxiety when seeing their dentist. But when the anxiety becomes extreme, it can have a great impact on your oral health.

Patients with extreme dental anxiety may delay their dental appointments or not see a dentist at all. This can mean patients won’t get treatment, even if they have a broken tooth, for example, and they know it may get worse. Dental problems left untreated can become worse and lead to more intensive, painful and costly treatments.

The first step in dealing with anxiety is talking with your dentist. They’ve treated many people in the same situation and can help you. They can offer you options such as:

  • anti-anxiety medication taken before an appointment;
  • nitrous oxide or conscious sedation during the appointment; or
  • general anesthesia.

Working with your dentist and the dental team, here are some strategies you can use to reduce your anxiety.

  • Let your dentist know about any negative experiences you’ve had so they can manage your experience moving forward.
  • Remind your dentist and/or receptionist about your anxiety when you book your appointment and when you arrive.
  • Arrive a few minutes early, but don’t go an hour early, as sitting in the waiting room for too long can increase anxiety.
  • Try a simple breathing technique: take a deep breath, hold it and then let it out very slowly. This will help to slow your heart rate and relax your muscles.
  • Ask questions. Understanding the procedure and knowing what to expect during your dental visit may calm your fears.
  • If you have a low tolerance for pain, even with a local anesthetic, tell your dentist.
  • Distract yourself by listening to your favourite music or by listening to a podcast or audiobook.
  • Raise your hand to let your dentists know if you need to take a break during an exam or treatment.
  • If you don’t like the bright lights shining in your eyes, bring a pair of sunglasses to wear while in the dentist’s chair.

Are you experiencing dry mouth?

Dry mouth is a common effect of stress. It occurs when the amount of saliva in your mouth dries up.

Learn how to prevent it