What's stress got to do with men's teeth?


It would be easy to believe that the concept of 'stress' was created during the 21st century; a modern-day phenomenon brought on by juggling multiple commitments in a time-strapped society where a skewed work-life balance is weighted heavily in favour of the need to earn money.

Throw in a fast-paced 24/7 world in which time refuses to stand still and a lifestyle that includes round-the-clock access to emails and the internet, and it's no wonder many of us teeter on the edge of burnout.

In reality, the bedfellows of stress - tirednesshigh blood pressure, anxiety, muscle tension, gastric problems, skin eruptions, headaches, and bad moods to name but a few - have been around for a long time, but the number of us facing stress-related health issues continues to increase.

Stress affects three million people in the UK and, according to the most recent figures from the Health and Safety Executive1, stress accounted for 35% of all work-related ill health cases and 43% of all working days lost due to ill health in 2014/15.

Additionally, it is more prevalent in public service industries, such as education, health and social care, and public administration and defence.

Causes cited included workload pressures, tight deadlines and overburdening of responsibility and a lack of managerial support.

Only this month a survey2 revealed that the average person is only able to fully relax for 36 minutes a day - amounting to just three hours across the working week.

The study into the working patterns and downtime of 2,000 people found seven in ten feel 'overworked' - with work stress and too few proper breaks the leading causes of a lack of 'me time'.

This month, Men's Health Week (13-19 June) is running with the theme of men's stress and how best to beat it.

Some people seem to be more affected by stress than others and men, in particular, are not the best at seeking medical attention when it is most needed.

However, it is important not to ignore the physical early warnings and, like many health issues, the first signs and symptoms could very well be found inside your mouth.

However, according to the 2009 Adult Dental Health Survey3 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, men are less likely than women to have tried to make an NHS dental appointment in the last three years.

A dental examination reveals a lot more than just the health of the oral cavity so seeing a dental therapist or hygienist regularly offers blokes an opportunity for the dental team to detect and highlight any early predictors of systemic disease as well as dental disease.

We all relieve our stresses in different ways - with some less healthy than others - and, whilst a daily workout in the gym works for some guys, other men may turn to the pub for solace or find comfort in sugar-laden food.

Acidic foods and drinks are well known sources of the problem and, if your instinct is to have a glass or two of fizzy wine or reach for a packet of sour sweets when the going gets tough, your teeth are in for a rough ride.

It's also worth noting that the most significant contributory factors to oral cancer are the combination of smoking and heavy drinking, with stressbusters such as smokeless tobacco, chewing betel quid, and a poor diet also increasing the risk.

Indeed, according to the Men's Health Forum4, men are nearly three times more likely than women to become alcohol-dependent (8.7% of men are alcohol-dependent compared to 3.3% of women).

Also, men are three times as likely as women to report frequent drug use (4.2% and 1.4% respectively) and more than two thirds of drug-related deaths occur in men.

The impact of recreational drugs on oral health is well documented - and it is important that you share this information with the member of the dental team you visit.

Many people who take drugs or alcohol tend to use the substances in higher amounts in the evenings, before going to sleep - and neglect their oral hygiene routine as a consequence, which leads to leads to a higher rate of decay and plaque.

Stimulants such as ecstasy and cocaine can cause users to clench or grind their teeth when under the influence and this can lead to teeth being worn down, headaches, and neck aches.

Stress can also, in itself, cause bruxism - the proper name for tooth grinding - which also increases the risk of developing other symptoms such as headaches, TMJ disorders, facial pain and ear pain and is associated with sleep apnoea.

Although there is no specific cure for bruxism, your dental team can organise an occlusal splint to offer relief from the disorder - a custom-made device that reduces the parafunction forces and protects your teeth.

Amanda Gallie is President-elect of the British Association of Dental Therapists. She says: 'The dental team are often the first health professionals to spot early signs of stress with a look inside the mouth and by taking a medical history. By discussing the triggers and the problems, we can jointly address with patients a safer route to solving the problem with regards to their lifestyle and dietary habits.

'Cortisol - the stress hormone - can lead to swollen gums, bleeding and general discomfort. So, if you are suffering with stress, distress, anxiety or depression, it is worth having a check up with your dental team to prevent serious oral health issues such as tooth or bone loss.'

So, no excuses gentlemen - these days, many practices offer online booking services. If you can't get to a practice during working hours, find one near your workplace.

A dental therapist and a hygienist are always keen to discuss lifestyle and hygiene habits that may impact negatively on your health. And, because they record a patient's medical history at every visit, you can review your progress jointly.

References

1. http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress/

2. http://www.swnsdigital.com/2016/05/brits-can-only-fill-relax-for-36-minutes-a-day/

3. http://www.hscic.gov.uk/pubs/dentalsurveyfullreport09

4. https://www.menshealthforum.org.uk/key-data-mental-health

Men's Health Week runs from 13-19 June.