Written by Tabitha Acret, Dental Hygienist at AIRFLOW Dental Spa
As we enter our seventh month of living amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, here in Australia, one of the key points of discussion is how Australians may be suffering from greater levels of stress which is attributing to an increase in anxiety and depression. Mental health alone is estimated to affect at least 45% of the Australian population, with this figure expected to dramatically increase due to continuing social, physical, emotional, and financial strains placed on the community and individual households during the pandemic.
Whilst mental health brings with it a series of complications, including family conflicts, relationship difficulties, social isolation, problems with illicit substances, workplace troubles, and financial worry, there are also several health concerns. Often overlooked is our oral wellness! As many people may know, the mouth and our teeth can sometimes translate what is happening internally.
People with poor mental health, especially those suffering from severe mental illness, are at a greater risk of oral health problems. This can be a result of poor nutrition, lack of at-home oral care, excess medication, increased alcohol consumption, or anxiety about visiting the dentist (meaning visits are far and few between).
For people who suffer from anxiety, this oftentimes is linked to dental phobia. Anxiety is a serious condition and requires professional support in its treatment and management, however, your dental team can assist with ways to manage your visit ensuring you feel as confident and comfortable as possible. Discuss with them your triggers and identify what processes can be excluded or managed so your pearly whites are always protected.
For individuals who are experiencing acute levels of stress due to current life changes, it is important to recognise how that is impacting your health. Whilst it’s not always possible to eliminate the source of stress, it is crucial to put in place some practices and routines that could mitigate these feelings. For oral health, in particular, stress can cause teeth grinding, increased risk of periodontal disease (gum disease), dry mouth, as well as changes in diet contributing to decay.
When people are experiencing stress, they can sometimes clench or grind their teeth during the day, but most commonly while sleeping. A lot of the time people will be unaware they are doing it, leaving them with headaches, saw jaw muscles, or worst-case scenario, cracked teeth. If you’re experiencing this it’s important to seek advice from a dental professional and have the grinding investigated to make sure there are no underlying airway issues associated with it.
Periodontal disease (gum disease).
Stress not only takes a toll on our mental health, it significantly lowers the immune system, creating a greater risk for infection in the mouth. The bacteria that are in your mouth can deconstruct the soft and hard tissues that support your teeth. When the immune system lowers, your body is unable to fight off the bacteria like it normally can, and therefore becomes more susceptible to this process of inflammation and decay. Adequate home care is crucial during times of stress, making sure you are brushing twice daily and cleaning between your teeth. If you notice bleeding when cleaning your gums and teeth this is not normal, it is recommended you contact your dental practice and arrange an appointment immediately.
This particular side effect can be a direct cause of stress, if not by the medications used to treat stress and mental illness. Saliva is the protector of our mouth and it helps to wash away the acids and sugars consumed throughout any given day. When you have less saliva present, this can be uncomfortable, affect your speech, cause bad breath, and increase the risk of dental decay due to the lack of protective barrier on your enamel.
Whilst during this time it may not be possible to eliminate the stresses we are feeling, it is more important than ever to nurture our health, including the teeth and mouth. Book regular dental appointments with your local practice, they may encourage treatments such as the AIRFLOW© Dental Spa which is a non-invasive cleaning device using high-pressure water and cleansing powder to remove bacteria from those hard to reach places. In addition to seeking professional cleans, you should be brushing twice a day and cleaning between your teeth, using fluoride toothpaste, and monitoring for any complications. Consider those pearly whites a window to your internal health, so take good care of them!