Dr. Nammy talks about stress and teeth grinding, how these issues are related, and how to prevent them to help your dental health.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher, and I’m here today with Dr. Nammy Patel, founder of Green Dentistry at San Francisco, California. Helping patients recognize the vital connection between dental health and whole-body health and author of the bestselling book, Age With Style: Guide to a Youthful Smile and Healthy Living. Today, our topic is stress, teeth grinding, and your oral health. Welcome, Dr. Nammy.

Dr. Nammy Patel: Thank you, John, for having me.

How Does Stress Play a Role in Your Oral Health?

John: Sure. So Dr. Nammy, in 2020 here, we’re all dealing with the risk of COVID. Maybe we haven’t seen our friends and our families for months, maybe, now. And it’s a particularly divisive election year, with the election coming up. Everybody seems really stressed out. So how can all of that stress play a role in our oral health, with our jaw and our teeth and our gums?

Dr. Nammy: So John, stress is definitely not very good for it, especially sustained stress. We have now been in COVID for over six months, but when you are already stressed for a long period of time, our bodies aren’t able to cope. When we are stressed out, our body goes into a fight-or-flight response. So it’s basically doing things to keep us alive, because we have caveman brain, which will not discern the difference between a snake in front of us or us just thinking about COVID.

So our system is overwhelmed, and it’s on overdrive. When we’re in that state, our body forgets to do the reparative functions and do the things that we naturally do to thrive. And when we are in a stress mode for a long period of time, it really has a negative impact on our body. Again, lowers our immune system. It wears out our hormones. For women, it is very common to see thyroid issues. Actually, even in men. So if this stress is sustained for over 16-to-18 months, what we usually find is somebody has a hypothyroid issue. So their hormone is depleted, and when that hormone is depleted, that entire immune system goes down, because that hormone is an activator for your immune response.

And what that does with us is that as a human being, or as somebody going through stress for a long period of time, our bodies naturally clench and grind. When we clench and grind, our body is unconsciously or subconsciously trying to figure out a solution. It is kind of pacing, in order to kind of process that information about fear and about life and death. And when it does that for a long period of time, we find that patients chip and crack their teeth. When they’re grinding, they lose bone, because they are putting too much pressure on the bone. And we find patients with headaches, with jaw pain, with disc issues. We find a lot of concern with patients undergoing through a lot of stress for a long period of time.

What Should You Do If You Grind Your Teeth?

John: Right. So what do you recommend that people do if they do find themselves clenching their jaw and grinding their teeth?

Dr. Nammy: The first thing I always recommend for patients to do when they find themselves clenching and grinding is our brain is really good at recognizing the logical. So realize COVID is real, but also realize we are okay. We will find a solution. We’ll put people on Mars. Human beings, for millions of years, have thrived. They have survived, and we will get through this, as well. We will find a solution. The most important thing to realize with our logical brain is to create a sense of safety, and the way we can create a sense of safety is by reasoning with it. And that’s one of the reasons I said if we put people on Mars, we are going to find a solution for this, and we absolutely will. It will take time, and the best thing we can do during that process is to take the best care of ourselves.

And what that looks like is deep breathing, doing 20 deep breaths in the morning when you wake up, doing 20 deep breaths throughout the day, as you’re going through your work. Before you go to bed at night, take a shower. Take an Epsom salt bath. Do something that takes you from the fight-or-flight to rest-and-digest-and rejuvenate. And lowering that stress response is really the key. Do it by reasoning. Do it by doing physical action, which could be exercise, taking baths, deep breathing, making sure you’re doing things that make you happy. It may be baking. It may be going for a run. It may be doing 20 Zoom calls. Whatever it is, do things that bring you joy, because when you’re in that space of joy is when your body is at optimum function.

It is resting. It is rejuvenating. It is fighting cancer. It is fighting heart disease. It is fighting gum disease. It is fighting COVID. It is boosting your immune response against COVID to make sure that you have very little symptoms or you are asymptomatic, and your chances of survival are a lot higher.

And in the process, you’re saving your teeth and gums and avoiding more costly procedures. You don’t have to worry about getting your crown if you break your tooth, or you don’t have to worry about the financial aspect of things that come along with stress.

Jaw Pain

John: Right, and what about jaw pain, in particular? I know that when I’m at work and I get particularly stressed out, sometimes I find myself kind of clenching my jaw, and I end up at the end of the day with my jaw kind of hurting a little bit. How is that linked to maybe headaches and other health issues and issues in your mouth, when you find that you have jaw pain like that?

Dr. Nammy: So when you have jaw pain, that means that your muscles of the jaw are contracted, and that means that you’ve been doing it for a long period of time. And in order to relax those muscles, you must relax. And the best and the easiest way to do it, first and foremost, is to put your tongue on the roof of your mouth and take 20 deep breaths. You can take an inhale, hold it for five seconds, and exhale. And if you do that for 20 deep breaths, your body will naturally relax, because it is going to release what we call endorphins. There are hormones that tell our body to relax. Those jaw muscles that are contracted will start relaxing, and that pain will go away. And that’s the easiest and the fastest thing you can do right away.

The other thing that you can do about jaw pain is to make sure it doesn’t happen, so take breaks. Avoid coffee. We’re finding that being at home, being by your desk, you can take a cup of coffee, sip it multiple times throughout the day. Have it in the morning. The rest of the day, have a shake, a juice, a smoothie, something else that’s healthier for you. So that way, you’re not jittery, and also, you’re not adding that extra grinding and that stress muscles aren’t being contracted. So the key here is relax, relax, relax, relax.

How to De-Stress and Relax

John: Yeah, I know that I like to get outside. The outside really kind of calms me down, so going for a run or a walk. I like to go with my family and take a little hike in the woods, if I can, something like that. Do you have any other ways that you like to de-stress and relax?

Dr. Nammy: Absolutely. So I live in San Francisco, so it’s a city environment, so there aren’t as many parks as we would like. And sometimes the weather’s too cold, so it’s hard to get out. So my best way of de-stressing is comedy shows. Watch comedy. Laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh. There is something about laughter that is great therapy for us, as well as connecting with our loved ones. So do baking with your family or do a pasta class with your family, something along those lines that brings you joy and just really makes you laugh and feel connected and full and happy and relaxed.

Because we can create our own little bubble. We can create our little bubble within. Despite what’s going on on the outside of the environment, we can create a little bubble for ourselves that is our safety net, which allows our body to be safe, also our minds and spirits to be safe, so that we can focus on thriving and getting through this time. Realizing you’re not alone; we’re all in this together. And when we’re connecting with others through laughter or comedy or baking, or just Zoom, really, even, we are connecting and we’re fulfilling that inner desire, that inner safety, that inner joy, that really helps us get through this and to realize we’re not alone. We’re going to get through it, and it helps us relax.

John: That’s great advice, Dr. Nammy. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Dr. Nammy: Absolutely.

John: And for more information about Green Dentistry, visit the website at sfgreendentist.com or call (415) 433-0119.