Parenthood, thy name is stress. Running a household teeming with kids is hardly ever a picnic; whether it’s from newborn needs or from teenage angst, you’re going to have your fair share of sleepless nights as a parent.
We all know the number that stress can do on you. Ranging from insomnia, mood swings, feelings of distraction and exhaustion, leaving your car keys in the freezer and forgetting you did so, stress does a number on your ability to think clearly and act accordingly. But did you know that the stress you experience can have a negative effect on, of all things, your oral health? It’s true — and here’s what you need to know about the connection between stress and oral health.
The Daily Grind
Ever been so frustrated by someone or something that you’ve just had to clench your teeth in anger? Or maybe you’ve been worrying yourself over a problem in your head and you realize you’ve been grinding your teeth for minutes or possibly even hours? Jaw clenching and tooth grinding is a common stress response — you might even do it unconsciously in your sleep!
Unfortunately, tooth grinding and jaw clenching is absolutely terrible for your oral health. Not only are you running the risk of damaging your teeth or their enamel, you’re also engaging in activity that’s a great way to earn yourself a headache or a sore jaw — or worse yet do damage to your temporomandibular joint (TMJ).
Thankfully it’s not hard to treat tooth grinding. You can take steps during your waking hours to stay aware of what you’re doing and stopping the behavior, but to address an overnight problem you’re likely to need a dentist-approved mouthguard to stop yourself from grinding those teeth of yours down to nothing.
All Dried Up
One of the other big stress-induced oral health problems is dry mouth. While it’s normal to feel your mouth go dry in stressful situations — it’s part of your body’s fight-or-flight response — being under repeated stress means repeated instances of dry mouth, and this leads to some pretty unpleasant oral health issues that you’ll need to deal with.
Your mouth relies on saliva to protect itself from harmful bacteria. Repeatedly experiencing dry mouth means there’s no saliva to wash that bacteria away, and that can lead to issues like bad breath and advanced tooth decay. Gum disease and infection are all more common as well when you’ve got constant dry mouth, so it’s a bad scene all around.
There are ways to treat dry mouth. Chewing sugar-free gum can trigger saliva production, for instance, and you’ll have fewer problems doing so if you also stay away from caffeinated beverages and alcohol-based mouthwash. You should also consult your family dentist for the best ways to prevent and control chronic dry mouth.
It’s Not Easy
Thankfully, good oral hygiene practices, along with some help and advice from your dentist, can help resolve any of these stress-based oral health issues if you find yourself experiencing them. The best way to resolve these oral health problems more definitively, though, is to seek out the root of what’s causing them: your stress.
While it’s unlikely you’ll be able to just drop everything and take two weeks to lie on a beach somewhere, there are always little ways to de-stress and relax at home, even in the hectic life of a parent. Tag in your partner or another family member when you need a break. Get more sleep, drink plenty of water, listen to your favorite music, rob a bank — whatever works for you!