Every day, your employees face challenges that can be stressful and overwhelming, but the pandemic, inflation and war have all helped to push U.S. stress levels to record levels. As stress increases, so do oral health problems. For National Stress Awareness Month this April, learn why your employees may be at risk and what you can do to help.
Pandemic stress and oral health
Unfortunately, due to stress from COVID-19, dentists have seen a sharp rise in stress-related oral health conditions, according to a report from the American Dental Association (ADA). Dentists reported:
- A 71% increase in the prevalence of teeth grinding and clenching
- A 63% increase for chipped teeth
- A 63% increase for cracked teeth
Even as some of the most challenging, isolating and stressful aspects of the pandemic seem to be coming to an end, money problems, inflation and war have pushed stress in the U.S. to alarming levels, according to the American Psychological Association.
Stress-related oral health conditions
It’s crucial to remind your employees to look after their oral health during times of high stress because they may be unaware that they’re developing stress-related oral health conditions.
Teeth grinding, or bruxism, occurs when teeth are clenched and ground together, and it’s frequently caused by stress and anxiety. What’s more: teeth grinding often happens at night during sleep, so your employees may be entirely unaware they have the condition.
It’s important for employees to know the signs and to seek treatment if they suspect they may be grinding their teeth. Signs include:
- Tips of the teeth appear flat
- Tooth sensitivity caused by worn enamel
- Indentations in the tongue
Dentists can examine your employees’ teeth to determine whether they may be grinding their teeth at night and, if so, how best to treat it.
Stress can deplete the immune system, the body’s natural defense mechanism against disease and infection. And when the immune system is weakened by stress, harmful bacteria in the mouth seize the opportunity to wreak havoc on the gums. Furthermore, research shows that the systemic diseases associated with gum disease such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease may share stress as a common risk factor.
When your employees are stressed, they should take extra care of their gums by flossing and maintaining a solid dental hygiene routine. If their gums bleed when they floss or brush, they should visit the dentist right away.
Stress and tooth decay often go hand in hand. People tend to make poor choices regarding their health during times of stress, eating comforting but unhealthy foods full of starch and sugar. They pay less attention to their normal hygiene routines, forgoing regular brushing and flossing if they feel stressed or depressed. Your employees who take medications for chronic stress may be at an even greater risk due to dry mouth, which is often a side effect of such medications. Altogether, these issues can shape the perfect storm leading to more cavities during times of stress.
How to help your employees
The best way to reduce stress is to remove its source. Of course, in many cases, that’s simply not possible. Counseling, exercise, relaxation, physical therapy or meditation may all help your employees manage stress during difficult times. If your company makes these resources available, use National Stress Awareness Month to remind your employees to use them.
But during times of stress, it’s equally important to remind your employees to take care of their oral health, to watch for stress-related oral health problems and to keep up with regular dentist visits.
The following resources from Delta Dental can help you raise awareness about stress-related oral conditions and keep your employees informed. With Delta Dental, you can:
- Share articles about teeth grinding and stress and oral health with your employees
- Send a wellness email to mark National Stress Awareness Month
- Post a flyer about stress-related oral health problems on the company intranet
Managing stress in the post-pandemic era
Many of your employees may be unaware of the crucial relationship between stress and oral health. During Stress Awareness Month, you can serve the crucial role of reminding employees to manage their stress, to watch for the signs of stress-related oral health conditions and to visit their dentist to help treat any stress-related oral health problems.