We all know that too much stress isn't great for us. It's bad for our mental health, our skin, our relationships. But apparently, stress can damage our teeth, too. Stress often manifests itself physically, and it goes to reason that teeth would also be affected. But it can be a surprisingly serious problem when you look a little deeper.
In an article in Harper's Bazaar, Dr Uchenna Okoye, Oral-B smile director, highlighted the link between stress and teeth grinding. It can happen at night without you realising it, and causes the enamel on your teeth to be worn away, and if that happens over time, can even mean teeth could crack. "Stress leads to clenching and grinding of jaws," Dr James Goolnik, founder of Bow Lane Dental Group, tells me. "This not only puts strain on the jaw muscles (giving muscle pain and joint clicking), but over time the movement creates distinct wear-marks on your teeth and can even crack a tooth."
Celeb dentist Dr Richard Marques added to Harper's that sometimes, you can grind all the way down to the nerve, and "root canal treatment may then be needed to remove the nerve from the teeth." A root canal is not fun, as those who have experienced it will know. You can even, over time, grind your teeth down so they appear shorter, according to Net Doctor — which is not particularly easy or cheap to remedy. Plus, teeth grinding can cause headaches, which probably make you grind more. “If you are stressed, this can cause problems such as migraines which can then cause pain or cracks within the teeth,” Dr Uchenna tells me. A real Catch 22.
Stress can also cause you to repeatedly clench your jaw, tensing up the whole top part of your body. Much of this is subconscious and you won't realise until you feel a pain that you've been doing so, but it can have knock-on effects for the neck and shoulder, according to Choose Natural. The body is unbelievably connected, so visiting the dentist so he can tell you exactly what's going on is a good idea, as interestingly, much of what we do with our mouths through stress seems to be subconscious.
And then there's what we put in our mouths when stressed. I know personally that when I've had a bad day, I head for the sugar: ice cream in my case, but either way, it's bad news for our teeth, as every child who's ever been to a dentist can tell you. Sugar = tooth decay. It causes plaque to grow and multiply quickly, according to Pearly Whites, and when this bacteria builds up over time, it gets problematic.
The Happy Tooth also suggests that stress can cause cankers, or sores in the mouth that can come as a result of brushing too hard or too frequently, or biting the inside of your cheek. "Stress can exacerbate these compulsive and overzealous behaviours and lead directly to additional canker sores," the site says. They disappear on their own after around 10 days, according to Web MD, but can be uncomfortable. Over-brushing through stress can also cause gums to bleed, which is a symptom of gum disease, and should be examined. Otherwise, you may end up with receding gums, which is hard to treat.
Weirdly, stress can even be linked to halitosis. "Stomach acids can build up in times of stress, potentially leading to acid reflux and other compounds that cause bad breath," says Net Doctor. There are actual medications for this, rather than just relying on mint chewing gum, so don't panic.
Demi Moore once told Jimmy Fallon that she lost her two front teeth to stress, so ultimately, stress is something to crack down on, before it impacts your gums, teeth, and jaw. Try visiting your GP, or try self-soothing methods like mediation, yoga, and exercise. Of course, getting to the root (get it?) of the stress is also a good idea, although this is always easier said than done.