How stress can affect your dental health


Some degree of stress is normal and healthy for all of us. Stress helps to motivate our behaviour and achieve tasks throughout the day.  At some point though, when stress levels increase, they change from being helpful to potentially causing damage. The current COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all in many ways, including having a potential impact on our oral health and the forces we place on our teeth from stress. Tooth grinding, also called bruxism, is a common habit which often increases during stressful periods.  Similarly, tooth clenching is often associated with stress.  Many dentists are reporting an increase in the number of patients they are seeing with damage to their teeth as a result of stress and bruxism.

How would I know I’m grinding my teeth?      

Bruxism can occur during the daytime or during sleep, when we may not always be aware we are doing it. The damage from excessive forces on the teeth and jaw joints from bruxism can range from muscular tenderness and cheek biting through to acute pain, cracked or chipped teeth, broken fillings, jaw pain headaches or even a complete fracture of tooth requiring its removal. Longer term negative effects on teeth from bruxism include tooth wear and loss of tooth enamel and dentine or irreversible irritation of the nerve inside of the teeth requiring more advanced dental treatment such as root canal therapy and crowns.

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome is a chronic disorder which can result from too much pressure on the joint connecting the jawbone and the skull. Tightening the muscles, clenching the teeth and grinding contribute to TMJ pain. Book an appointment with your dentist today for an assessment.

What can I do to protect my teeth against stress?

How you take care of your mouth and teeth is the most important factor in reducing your risk of tooth damage and decay. While brushing and flossing regularly won’t directly reduce the impact of stress, they will support your overall oral health.  Having regular dental checks can help to detect and monitor any changes to the health and integrity of your teeth. Your dentist will also be able to guide you in recognising early signs of stress on your teeth and ways to reduce tension in your face and mouth. Your dentist may also recommend preventive treatment such as mouth guards or even help from a physiotherapist to reduce muscular tenderness.

Consider how your body responds to stress and the conscious as well as unconscious ways you are managing tension. Awareness is often the first step towards making positive changes.  Changing your behaviour through relaxation strategies may take some time, but it will be very beneficial.

Tips to reduce stress related tooth damage

There are a number of things you can do to help reduce your risk:

  1. Avoid chewing on hard foods and never use your teeth as ‘tools’ to open packages or containers. Ice, pork crackling, nuts, hard lollies and uncooked popcorn can damage your teeth.
  2. Be mindful of daytime tooth grinding and triggers which cause you to clench your teeth.
  3. Practice mindfulness exercises and deep breathing if you’re feeling stressed. Regular exercise can be a helpful way to reduce stress.
  4. See your GP about any underlying sleep disorders like sleep apnoea.
  5. Speak with your dentist about wearing a night guard to stop tooth grinding.