One of the more interesting aspects of living with anxiety is that anxiety itself is not entirely a mental health problem. Many people find that their symptoms are largely physical. There are individuals today living with anxiety that do not even realize they have anxiety, because they experience mostly physical symptoms rather than the mental worries that most people associate with being anxious.
Dentists know this all too well, as many of those living with anxiety experience problems with their gum and mouth. These problems are not always obvious to those suffering from these symptoms, but they can show a very noticeable effect on the health of your teeth and gums.
The Effects of Anxiety on Teeth
• Tooth Grinding
The most well-known effect of anxiety is tooth grinding. Tooth grinding occurs primarily from stress. When you’re tense, your jaw clenches and your teeth push together. This friction can damage your teeth, causing them to become weaker over time. Interestingly, much of this grinding occurs at night during sleep, so those that tooth grind may not even realize they’re doing it. Tooth grinding is a common problem of those living with anxiety.
• Enhanced Tooth Pain
Tooth pain is a very real issue, so the vast majority of those living with tooth pain probably do not have anxiety. But when you have an anxiety disorder – especially panic attacks, which cause over-sensitivity to the body’s physical problems – the tooth pain can actually feel worse, because those with anxiety have a tendency to focus on the pain more than those without anxiety.
• Tooth Infections
Another possible problem with teeth comes from the way anxiety affects your immune system. Every day your teeth fight off tons of germs without any problem. But when you have anxiety, your immune system can become weaker. It may struggle to fight off these bacteria. When that’s the case, the teeth and gums can become infected. Research has linked gum diseases like gingivitis to prolonged stress and anxiety.
• Gum Destruction
Anxiety is, at its core, long term stress. Studies have shown that long term stress releases cortisol, a hormone that acts like a toxin inside the body. Cortisol can lead to serious problems in your teeth and gums. Long term stress may lead to gum destruction, and it is even possible for your gums to loosen their grip on your teeth making them more prone to falling out when damaged. It’s not rapid by any means, but it is a risk nonetheless.
• Secondary Effects
Finally, stress can lead to other issues that, in turn, can affect your teeth and gums. For example, stress can cause people to start smoking or drinking as a way to self-medicate. Those two behaviors are known to damage teeth. Similarly, stress can increase stomach acid content, which may lead to acid reflux or vomiting. Both of those can cause tooth and gum damage. Many other psychological disorders (including bulimia) are related to stress and anxiety as well, and these also have the potential to cause tooth and gum problems.
The Effects of Anxiety on Your Dental Health
The good news is that even with stress and anxiety, visiting the dentist regularly can be of huge benefit to your gums and teeth. The more they’re kept clean and healthy, the less likely stress will have an effect on their long term health.
But it’s also important that you maintain your anxiety, especially if you want to improve your dental health. Anxiety may be a mental health problem, but it is also a physical problem, and unless you get the help for anxiety that you need your teeth and the rest of your physical health may suffer.
Written by Ryan Rivera, who had to go to the dentist 4 to 5 times a year for several years because of the way stress affected his teeth. Now he writes anxiety reduction strategies at http://www.calmclinic.com.