Stress and your mouth

4th June 2016

Modern life can be stressful. With Men’s Health week coming up, it is a good time to reflect on what we put our bodies through and how we can minimise the impact of stress. Stress can manifest in the mouth as pain, bruxism, temporomandibular disorders (TMD), mouth ulcers and gum disease.

One of the most common symptoms in the city is Bruxism, a medical term to describe teeth grinding. In a little more detail, it covers a range of actions that involve the teeth, the jaw, the muscles of the jaw and the temperomandibular joint ( TMJ ).

The symptoms can range from a mild disturbance to pain so severe that patients cannot sleep or work.

It can effect children and adults, but main age range is 25-45.

Two main types:

Daytime or awake bruxism usually involves just a clenching of the jaw in response to a stimuli.

Asleep bruxism occurs when one is asleep and often involves jaw clenching combined with a grinding of the teeth and contraction of the jaw muscles. Usually there is an associated noise as the teeth move over each other.

What are the causes?

Bruxism has a multitude of causes and it can be difficult to highlight one as the main cause, however a few of the causes discussed are:

  1. Incorrect tooth alignment. If your teeth are not in the correct position, then it can lead to the teeth meeting in a different position. This leads to the muscles attached to the jaw being stretched in a way they are not comfortable, which, in turn, leads to muscular pains such as head and neck ache. The teeth receive a message from the brain, indicating the discrepancy in the bite and try to grind their way to a more comfortable position. This, in turn, leads to more symptoms, and so in turn leads to more pain. The best way to correct this is to move the teeth back into a correct position, from something as simple as a minor filing of the tops of the teeth ( occlusal equilibration) to orthodontics ( braces). The orthodontic process is usually reserved for extreme cases.
  2. Stress. Just like mouth ulcers, cold sores and stomach ulcers all increase propensity with onset of stress. So does the occurrence of bruxism, as a result the best way to treat this cause would be to find ways to de-stress. The largest cause of bruxism is stress related. Exercise and life changes to encourage a more relaxed environment would help, though not always possible!
  3. Other conditions. There is a strong link to Obstructive Sleep Apnea and patients who suffer from this also get episodes of bruxism in the night.
  4. Stimulants. Regular users of alcohol, drugs, tobacco and caffeine ( more than 6 cups a day). All of these stimuli can cause disturbed sleep which can result in increased occurrence of bruxism.
What are the dental symptoms of stress?

They are wide ranging but main ones are:

  • Soreness from muscles of the head and neck
  • More sensitive teeth, if they begin to wear down
  • Clicking or popping noises from the jaw joint
  • Lock jaw when jaw is opened wide
  • Headaches, neckaches and shoulder pains
  • Limited opening of the jaw
  • Earaches
Dental treatments for stress?

There is wide debate in the dental community as to what is the best treatment. The truth is, that the most important part is that the patient is seen by the dentist and a thorough history is taken. This allows the dentist to identify most obvious reasons for this bruxism and the extent it impinges on the patients life.

Models and photographs of the teeth should be taken, as well as listening to any noises of the jaw joint. A simple night-time splint can be worn to take the load off the joint and also balance the way the two jaws meet. This is called an Occlusal splint and has the effect of reducing the load on the muscles. A splint is a laboratory-constructed plastic that is hardened and designed bespoke to each patient to accommodate and reduce the effects of grinding. It can be quite dramatic how much it can improve and how quickly this is noticed.

Additional treatments could include anti-stress medication, Botox into the jaw muscles, orthodontics to move the teeth and lifestyle changes.

Mouth ulcers

Mouth ulcers are very common and can be triggered by stress. The most important thing is to keep your mouth very clean and not to touch them with your fingers. Maintaining good oral hygiene and use of an antiseptic mouthwash or spray (e.g. chlorhexidine) can prevent secondary infection and, therefore, slow healing. If you have an ulcer that has not healed in three weeks you must see your dentist or doctor.

It is all too easy to neglect your dental appointments. Is it really that long since I last saw my dentist?

Bow Lane has flexible appointment times and online booking, making it easier to schedule a time which is suitable for you.

Call us now on 020 7236 3600.

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