April is Stress Awareness Month. This is 30 days for health care professionals to find new ways to help their patients understand more about the various causes and reliable cures for the stress that fills modern lives.
Stress can even impact your dental health, and we want to inform people about the dangers of ongoing and unchecked stress and help provide some coping strategies and perhaps even eliminate some common misconceptions.
Because the thing is, stress isn’t just a mental thing. It affects your overall health, and long-term stress can even lead to some serious illnesses and conditions. To quote a page from the Federal Occupational Health website: “Although one bad day at work won’t compromise your health, weeks or months of stress can dampen your immune response and raise your risk for disease.”
Stress, as it relates to dental issues, usually appears in one of two ways.
- Stress Over Visiting the Dentist
This is not an uncommon feeling. Some reports suggest that a huge percentage of people feel at least some anxiety about going to the dentist. The only real problem occurs when people let that stress get in the way of their oral health.
Dental Anxiety By The Numbers
- 75% of adults experience some kind of anxiety over going in to the dentist, even if they don’t let it interfere with regular treatments
- 20% will only go when it’s absolutely necessary
- 5% to 8% completely avoid the dentist because of their anxieties
How to Reduce Stress Before an Appointment
- Talk about your concerns – Let the dentist know about your anxieties so steps can be taken to make your appointment more comfortable.
- Get an early-morning appointment – Don’t give yourself a chance to build up stress throughout the day.
- Get to know the office – Make an appointment just to look around and see how comfortable our office really is.
- Ask about sedation dentistry – Different levels of sedation are available for different stress levels. Nitrous oxide, oral sedation, or IV sedation may be recommended depending on your situation.
- Tell the dentist you need a break – If you’re in the chair, and things are getting stressful, it’s okay to take a breather. Sometimes you just need a moment to relax and take a few deep breaths.
- Bring some moral support – Sometimes, just having a friend or family member in the same room is enough to make a difference.
- Try some relaxation techniques – Meditation, deep breathing, and positive imagery have all helped many people cope with their stress and get the dental care they need.
- Bring headphones to listen to your favorite music
- Watch your favorite show on Netflix on one of the tv’s we have in the ceiling
How to Spot if You’re Stressing Out
Many of us will try to ignore the warning signs or convince ourselves that the stress we’re feeling is something else entirely. Then we’ll start making excuses to avoid the dentist. So ask yourself these questions:
- Do you get anxious in the waiting room?
- Does the sound of the drill make you feel ill?
- Do you have trouble sleeping the night before an appointment?
- Do you have a difficult time breathing normally while dental tools are being used on you?
These are good signs that you may have some stress that needs to be addressed. Just knowing that it’s there is often enough to encourage people to seek out some effective ways to reduce their stress.
- Stress from Other Sources that Leads to Bruxism
The second kind of stress that impacts your dental health is the kind that leads to teeth grinding at night. The technical term for this is bruxism, and while there are several potential causes for this, there are also many solutions.
This is a real concern because constant grinding can damage your teeth, cause abnormal amounts of wear, and, in the worst-case scenario, fracture teeth.
Since this usually takes place at night while you’re asleep (though some people do grind their teeth throughout the day), how will you know it’s happening?
There are several symptoms that may indicate the stress is driving you to grinding your teeth, including:
- Muscle aches
- Stiffness in the shoulders and neck
- Your loved one tells you they heard you grinding your teeth all night
We can help protect your teeth with specially fitted night guards. This is an effective way to prevent damage, however, if the stress continues, it might be time to talk to someone and really get to the source of the teeth grinding.
Stress Awareness Month is a great time to take a step back and see if the stresses of daily life are interfering with your dental health. And, of course, if you’d like a consultation on the subject, we’d be happy to talk with you about it.