You may know that stress can cause upset stomachs and headaches, but did you know it can cause tooth decay?
Here’s what to know and what you can do to protect your smile.
Backaches, sleepless nights, upset stomach. Just reading about the physical manifestations of stress can trigger a headache. Unchecked, stress can contribute to serious health conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.
There’s another, less obvious part of our body both affected by stress and a sign of it: our pearly whites.
“Sometimes people end up with issues that they didn’t even know were dental, and they didn’t even know they were stressed,” says Danine Fresch Gray, a general dentist who owns Clarendon Dental Arts.
Clenching or grinding the teeth, a common dental problem that can be related to stress, can cause headaches, chipped or flattened teeth, and tight jaw muscles. Improper bites and the breakdown of the temporomandibular joint connecting the skull to the jawbone may contribute to these dental woes, says Richard Rogers, a dentist in Frederick. Stress exacerbates grinding in those situations.
According to a recent “Stress in America” report from the American Psychological Association, Americans on average reported more physical symptoms of stress in 2017 compared with 2016, including anxiety, anger, and fatigue. The most common sources were the “future of our nation,” money, and work. It was the first significant increase in stress levels found by the APA since the inaugural survey in 2007.
While there are no Washington-specific numbers, a national survey in January 2017 found that 62 percent of urbanites were stressed by the election of Donald Trump, compared with 45 percent and 33 percent of people in suburban and rural areas, respectively.
Because of the connections between psychological stress and physical and oral health, a dentist must consider the whole person when a patient presents a stress-related dental issue. “One of the sayings is you never see a tooth walk through the door—it always has a human attached,” says Rogers. Teeth-grinding, for example, can be a sign of a sleep disorder. When someone has Sleep Apnea, the body’s effort to clear the airway may include grinding the teeth. “We monitor [patients’ sleep] and we say, ‘Here’s where you stopped breathing and gasped for air, and then you grind your teeth.’ ”