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From Teeth Grinding to Nail-Biting: How Your Mental Health Impacts Your Oral Health

As part of Mental Health Month in May, Dr. Janet K. Song wants to raise awareness about mental health and wellness and how this can affect your oral health. The theme this year is “Look Around, Look Within” which focuses on how the world around you affects your sense of well-being. Dr. Song is keen to provide helpful resources to help her patients prioritize their mental health and create long-term positive oral hygiene habits.

Mental health impacts your oral health in a variety of ways, creating several challenges. In line with this year’s theme, the world around us is impacting many people more than ever with unrealistic expectations of people’s appearance, behavior, and lifestyles that can cause much stress and anxiety. There are a few common habits we can pick up due to dealing with stress and anxiety that can impact our oral health:

  1. Teeth Grinding and Clenching

  2. Nail Biting

  3. Poor Oral Hygiene

Teeth Grinding

Teeth grinding and clenching (dentists refer to it as bruxism) is a common habit that can occur during the day but mostly at night. Stress and anxiety is one of the leading factors contributing to bruxism. The American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute completed a survey in 2021 that showed that more than 70% of dentists noticed signs of teeth grinding and clenching in their patients, an increase of nearly 10% over the previous year — a statistic associated with the stress of Covid.

Bruxism can cause multiple dental problems, including your teeth cracking, enamel being worn off and tooth sensitivity as well as jaw pain, headaches and earaches.

If you visit Dr. Song regularly, she will see the signs of bruxism and advise you on the primary recommended treatment option — a nightguard. The team can also refer you to some useful resources for stress-relief techniques.

Nail Biting

Nail-biting, or onychophagia, is another common habit that can be caused by mental stress and anxiety that affects dental health. Nail-biting can cause your teeth to chip, crack, and misalign your teeth. It also allows bacteria into your mouth that can cause infections.

If you're struggling with nail-biting, talk to Dr. Song and she can provide strategies to help you move away from this habit and find a healthy way to manage your stress.

Poor Oral Hygiene

If you experience mental health issues, you will understand that brushing your teeth twice a day and visiting the dentist twice a year is not a priority. However, ignoring your dental health can have a long term impact on your oral health as it can cause tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss, which can be painful and cause more stress and anxiety.

Seeking treatment for anxiety is a big step, whether it’s through therapy, medication, or relaxation techniques, however there are several small steps you can take to promote better oral health in the short term, such as:

  • Brush daily — brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste

  • Floss daily — remove plaque and bacteria from between your teeth

  • Reduce sugary / acidic drinks — like soda and sports drinks

  • Eat a healthy diet — high in fiber and low in sugar

  • Eliminate tobacco products — tobacco products can increase your risk of gum disease and tooth decay

Remember, you are not alone and our dental team is here to provide you with top dental healthcare and resources you may need to improve your mental and oral health at our dental practice in Fairfax, VA. If you know someone who is suffering from poor oral health that's related to mental health, it’s important to encourage them to take the leap and visit their dentist so they can start prioritizing their long term wellbeing — poor dental health can hugely impact their overall health. Make an appointment today!

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