Stress And Anxiety – Challenges For Our Teeth

Additional side effects of the Covid-19 crisis – guidance for our Ipswich patients

Worried dental patientAs if it wasn’t enough that some of us have suffered stress and anxiety not only from the threat of the disease itself, but also of the many weeks of isolation; reports now indicate that many of us are anxious about the safety aspects of having to return to work.

Although we are not yet at this stage; with the numbers of deaths and new cases going down gradually, it can only be a matter of time before many of us have to return to a situation where we are less able to control our own safety.

All of this ongoing anxiety and stress can be harmful and have adverse knock-on effects, including for our teeth and gums.

How stress and anxiety affects our oral health

There are two main ways in which these problems can have a negative effect on our teeth and gums. These are both direct and indirect. Our Foxhall Dental Practice dentists explain below.

The direct effects include immediate or gradual damage caused by grinding of the teeth; a condition known as bruxism. In most people this occurs at night and is therefore very difficult to control directly. In rare cases, and under extreme stress, people may also do this during their waking hours.

There are two likely outcomes to this. The most likely being a gradual wearing away of the protective enamel layer of the teeth. This exposes the underlying dentin layer, thereby increasing the likelihood of both tooth decay and tooth sensitivity. Less likely, but not unheard of, is that teeth can break under the strain. This is probably more likely to happen on teeth that have already been restored or are already weakened by damage. The breakage can range from a small chip coming away from the tooth, to a complete fracturing.

The main indirect way that we harm our teeth and gums through stress is by changing our daily habits, nearly always for the worse. When stressed, we are less likely to care of  ourselves, and especially when it comes to what we eat. Under normal circumstances, most of us probably eat reasonably well balanced meals, with perhaps the occasional junk food ‘treat’. As stress levels rise, the latter is likely to feature more. With stress and anxiety often comes some degree of depression or at least a lowering of the mood.  When this happens, making an effort to cook a meal is one of those things that is likely to go amiss when we simply ‘can’t be bothered’.

Unfortunately, most junk food and even general ready meals often contain high levels of sugar. Add to that the additional cakes and biscuits we may eat and it is easy to see how damage to our teeth and gums can occur, especially over a period of time.

What can you do about it?

It is easy to tell someone to ‘stop stressing’, and some of us will be handling the current situation much better than others, often depending on our circumstances. It is worth noting though that the situation is definitely improving and it is worth seeking out positive (but realistic) articles rather than allowing ourselves to become overwhelmed by the ‘doom and gloom’ of some reports. There are also a few practical things that we can try that can help to lower our stress levels. Not all of these will work for everybody, but it is worth trying a few until you find one that works for you.

Take some exercise – Exercise can be adjusted to your own level of fitness, but it will get the heart working better and help to relieve some stress. Within current guidelines, try to do this outside if the weather permits. Fresh air and daylight (and hopefully some sun), will help to lift the mood.

Read/write/paint etc – It doesn’t matter what you enjoy doing, but spend some time doing it. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t very good at painting for example. The act of taking part will help you to focus your thoughts on something other than the virus situation. Reading a novel can help too and can transport you to ‘other worlds’ for a while.

Breathing exercises etc – Simple breathing and/or meditation exercises are well known to help reduce stress levels. This might not come naturally to you at first but stick with it and you will probably find that it helps you to relax.

Change the channel – If you find that you are constantly checking the TV or internet for the latest news on the virus, turn it off or watch something else. By all means, make sure that you know what the latest advice is but this will not change every hour or possibly even every day. Perhaps allow yourself to watch one news report a day and leave it at that.

Pamper yourself – A little bit of what you fancy does you good, as the saying goes. We are under a lot of restrictions right now so breaking out and giving ourselves a treat can be a rewarding experience. Whether that is a long soak in the bath, watching some ‘rubbish’ TV or even treating yourself to a take away meal, all of us deserve to treat or pamper ourselves from time to time. Make sure that you don’t miss out.

If you are stressed or anxious because of a dental problem that you are having, we are available to talk. We may not be able to treat you face-to-face at this time, but we can offer help in the form of antibiotics and pain management advice where appropriate. If your stress is not dental related, please seek guidance from your GP.

Like you, the team at Foxhall Dental Practice hope that we can soon return to some semblance of normality, but until it is safe to do so , please stay safe and look after yourselves and others. If you do need to talk to us about an urgent dental issue, please call our Ipswich practice on 01473 258396.