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10 January 2019

Surbiton dentist, Dr Minesh Patel explains how this increasingly common problem can impact your oral health.

Stress appears to be a symptom of living in the modern world. Whilst stress has probably always been around (where will the next meal come from? etc), there is little doubt that, with modern technologies and a busy life, it is perhaps not surprising that it is a problem that is on the increase.

Not all stress is bad. We can leverage on it to help achieve our aims and goals, but where it becomes overwhelming, we may no longer be able to control it and illness may follow. Stress has been associated with heart attacks and other serious condition, but it can also have a significant impact on the health of our teeth.

Comfort eating

When we are highly stressed, few of us will reach for a carrot stick to help us over it. Most of us, if we are honest, will reach for something that we find most comforting. This can often be something that is very high in sugar. Chocolate is a popular choice and is also believed by some to offer mood lifting qualities. Whether it does this or not, the sticky and sugary chocolate that becomes stuck to your teeth is certainly not going to do them any good.

Gum disease

Some researchers have found that when we are stressed, our body’s ability to produce immune cells to fight against bacteria are reduced. This means that we are less capable of fighting against the bacteria in our mouth that can contribute to gum disease. This reduction in our immunity means that gum disease is more likely, especially if the stress is due to an ongoing situation, rather than a one off event.

Another ‘stress factor’ that may increase the risk of gum disease is that some of us may turn to either, or both, cigarettes and alcohol. Whilst this may potentially relieve some of the stress, it is likely to lead to a dry mouth which is a major contributor to gum disease. These habits may also lead to other more serious issues, such as mouth cancers, if they continue.

TMJ and Bruxism

Stress causes tension and some of this will be noticeable in the tension of our jaw muscles. Overuse of these muscles can lead to jaw problems known as TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder). This can be painful and can also lead to persistent headaches. If you suffer from constant headaches, you should first see your doctor to make sure that there are no underlying causes. If there aren’t, your next step should be to see one of our Surbiton dental team for further advice.

Another problem often caused by stress, and often linked to TMJ is bruxism.This is probably better known to patients of the Confidental Clinic as ‘teeth grinding’. Whilst some of us may do this from time to time in our daily lives as stressful situations arise, it is more likely to happen, subconsciously, whilst we are asleep. When it happens consistently, we are likely to see a gradual erosion, or wearing down, of the teeth. As the enamel wears away, problems like tooth sensitivity, chipped teeth and even badly broken teeth are entirely possible.

Oral health neglect

When stress levels occur over a long period of time, many of us are likely to become tired and worn down, and depression may also follow. Even a relatively ‘low level’ of depression can cause us to neglect ourselves, both in what we eat and also the way that we take care of our personal hygiene. We may find ourselves to be tired much of the time; so much so that we can’t even be bothered to make the effort to clean our teeth at night. Failing to do so will almost inevitably lead to a rise in the number of dental cavities that will need to be filled, or even lead to the need for teeth to be extracted.

Treatment of both stress and depression are beyond the remit of our team of our experienced dentists, and appropriate medical care should be sought. We do encourage you though, to try to keep up your regular dental appointments with us. If you have missed an appointment due to these conditions, please do call us again to rearrange. We will accommodate you as best as we possibly can.

Recovery to the point where these illnesses are manageable can take time and during this period, it is quite possible that your oral health will have deteriorated to some extent. The team at the Confidental Clinic in Surbiton are here to help you to restore your mouth to good health.

If you would like to make an appointment to see one of our dentists, you can do so by calling us on 020 8399 1291.

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