The summer vacation season has rushed to a close and school has started again for most families. So, there’s something that’s also rushing at us … the increasing potential for stress. Soon to be gone is a laid-back approach that summers tend to cultivate. Today, you’ll be gearing up for another school year; getting ready as our “season” will soon begin in earnest here in Southwest Florida; and a variety of other challenges. They all add up to one thing:
Stress is not only bad for your emotional well-being, but it has a direct effect on the overall health of your mouth as well. One of the most obvious problems? Grinding your teeth. Literally as well as figuratively, of course. One not-so-obvious problem: Young(er) people are the most at-risk through long hours at work or a lifestyle fueled by energy drinks.
Did you ever hear of “Trench Mouth?” It’s a term with an origin a century ago in the first World War, which was primarily fought across a series of trenches. What happened to the soldiers? They suffered not just the stress of combat, but also experienced illness brought on by poor hygiene and the combat soldier’s not unusually poor diet. All of this contributed to form acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG) and the establishment of the discomforting title of the disease.
Unlike trench warfare, ANUG hasn’t disappeared over time and is actually cited in medical literature as being a threat especially to those under the age of 35.
The reason: stress with a contributing factor of poor diet from long working hours and fueled by such things as coffee and energy drinks. In 2007 the Australian Dental Association issued a press release about stress risks and oral health concerns and how those 18-30 years old were at the highest risk.
Mount Sinai Hospital’s webpage about ANUG notes that it “causes ulcers, swelling and dead tissues in the mouth” and is brought on by excess bacteria and symptoms can include:
- Pain in the gums
- Gums that bleed easily
- Bad taste in the mouth; extremely bad breath
- Red and swollen gums
- Gray residue on the gums
- Large ulcers or loss of gum tissue in between teeth
- Swollen lymph nodes
As for grinding your teeth, the problem is you might not notice it. I see patients who grind their teeth in their sleep (it’s easy to spot the effects of grinding, but not always the cause) and we get them into a night guard for protection. However, if you are under stress constantly, you might not be aware that it’s having an effect on your teeth. Your dentist or hygienist will be able to tell you if you are grinding.
In addition to paying closer attention to your diet and how your job or other activities affect your daily routines of eating and oral hygiene, you should also make sure to brush twice daily and floss as well as maintain a solid preventive schedule of cleanings and exams with your dentist.