Nearly 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, what are the possible effects of prolonged stress on your mouth, and what can you do about it? Here are some important issues to be aware of.
Tongue or cheek chewing due to stress
For some of us, stress triggers repetitive chewing on the sides of the tongue, around the tip of the tongue, on the inside of the cheeks, or all three.
The signs: If you’re chewing your tongue, you might feel soreness in the traumatized area, especially if you’re chewing in your sleep. Your dentist may notice thickened, white mottled areas on your tongue, or injured tissue inside your cheek.
Possible consequences: The affected areas may become swollen, making them more vulnerable to further damage while you’re eating or even speaking.
How your dentist can help you stop: Your dentist may have suggestions for simple distraction techniques, and may also prescribe a mouthguard.
Teeth grinding (bruxism) and clenching
In stressful conditions, some patients clench and/or grind their teeth. Some are aware that they do this, while others may only do it in their sleep.
The signs: Soreness in your jaw, sore facial muscles, popping sounds in your jaws, and headaches are some of the most immediate indicators of teeth clenching and grinding. Your hygienist may notice that surfaces of your teeth are worn or that your gums have begun to recede.
Possible consequences: Continual clenching and grinding will sometimes lead to a painful jaw joint disorder, in which the joint becomes displaced. When this occurs, simple actions such as chewing, swallowing, speaking, and even breathing can sometimes become difficult. Prolonged grinding could also lead to cracked teeth.
How your dentist can help you stop: If you require immediate pain relief before you receive corrective treatment, your dentist may offer cold laser therapy, which is safe and painless. Corrective treatment options may include a customized orthotic appliance such as a Myobrace® or Advanced Lightwire Functionals.
For some of us, more time spent at home has led to more snacking and less-than-optimal care of our mouths and teeth, especially while dental appointments weren’t readily available. For some, this has led to tooth decay.
The signs: You may not have any symptoms during the early stages of tooth decay, but as the condition progresses, the most recognizable signs will be the ones you feel, such as tooth sensitivity; pain when biting down; pain when eating or drinking something cold, hot, or sweet; or a sudden toothache. You might also notice small pits or holes in your teeth, or stains that are black, brown, or white.
Possible consequences: Tooth decay can eventually lead to cavities that you’ll need to have filled. Severe, untreated tooth decay may require more extensive dental treatment.
How to avoid this condition: Avoiding tooth decay begins at home with five easy steps:
- Swish a mouthful of water for at least 20 seconds after meals and snacks
- Eat small amounts of sweets and refined starches
- If you’re eating acidic foods, have them in moderation or as part of a meal
- Avoid drinking soda and sugar-sweetened beverages
- Floss your teeth once a day, and brush them twice a day for two minutes each time
Visit your dental hygienist at least twice each year for regular cleanings, which will help to remove plaque (the sticky substance that forms when bacteria combine with starches and sugars that aren’t cleaned off your teeth) and tartar, which is hardened plaque.
We’re committed to keeping you and your family in the best health! Is it time for your next appointment?