Mental Health Equals Dental Health: Reducing Stress and Embracing Mindfulness (Stress Awareness Month)

Stress is not just something we feel emotionally and mentally, it’s something that affects our bodies physically. You may be surprised to learn that stress can take a toll on dental health. April is National Stress Awareness Month, making this the ideal time to discuss the link between stress and dental health, along with what you can do to improve both.

Stress and Dental Health
Stress and the Jaw. For some people, stress manifests as clenching. This seemingly minor habit can actually lead to big problems over time, as clenching strains the muscles of the jaw joint and can lead to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). Symptoms of TMD include clicking or popping of the jaw joint, pain in the jaw, difficulty opening or closing the mouth, pain in the head, neck, shoulder, back, ear, and more.

Stress and the Gums. Chronic stress can depress the immune system, making the body less able to fight off illness and pathogens. This can lead to an increase in inflammation of the gums and can make the body more susceptible to gum disease. Gum disease that’s not properly treated in time can lead to infection and is the primary cause of tooth loss in adults.

Stress and Teeth. When people are stressed, they’re more likely to skip good habits like brushing and flossing and engage in bad habits like smoking and eating sugary foods. This combination is bad news for teeth. If this goes on long enough, it could result in fillings, crowns, root canals, or extractions.   

Reduce Stress and Embrace Mindfulness
Learn to Recognize Stress First off, be mindful of what stress does to you. Each person experiences stress differently, but some common signs include:
Trouble sleeping
Disturbing dreams
Tension headaches
Tight muscles in shoulders, neck, and back
Excessive anxiety
Change in appetite
Disturbed digestion

When you know what signs to look for, you’ll know when you need to actively reduce stress in your life. In addition to sleeping more, eating better, and making sure to exercise, one of the best things you can do to reduce stress is improve mindfulness.

Practice Mindfulness Mindfulness is a mental state that focuses awareness on the here and now rather than on the future or past. Some ways to practice mindfulness and stay grounded in the present moment include:
Breathing exercises
If you’re new to mindfulness, you may want to find an app, audio track, or video to guide you through a mindfulness practice until you’re comfortable doing it on your own.

Change Your Brain for the Better
Studies show that practicing mindfulness doesn’t just make you feel better subjectively, it can actually change the brain to make it less prone to stress. By actively reducing stress through mindfulness, you can make a big improvement to your mental health – and your dental health.