How Chronic Pain Affects Your Oral Health

The links between oral health and overall wellbeing have long been studied and recognized. For those living with chronic pain, taking care of your teeth and gums is an important part of managing your health.

How does chronic pain affect dental health?

Pain can play a significant role in dental wellness, depending on the severity and source of the issue within the body. 

  • Back pain. Dental issues can cause or contribute to chronic back pain. Orthodontic problems such as malalignment of the jaws can contribute to postural issues. This causes stress to surrounding tissues, joints, and facial muscles. Strain on the facial muscles has a domino effect where muscles in the head, neck, shoulders, and back can become involved.
  • Autoimmune diseases. Conditions that impact the immune system, such as rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome, reduce the body’s ability to fight infection, which creates susceptibility to gum disease. Saliva production is also decreased, which contributes to tissue inflammation and tooth decay.
  • Solutions. If you experience chronic back pain and suspect you have jaw alignment issues, talk to your dentist. Addressing the dental issue responsible for the misalignment can help ease your pain. Brushing and flossing twice a day, along with regular dental cleanings, can remove harmful plaque that leads to decay and disease. Visits to the dentist can also help identify signs of gum disease before it becomes advanced.

What about medication use?

Many prescriptions used to treat chronic ailments, including antidepressants, antihistamines, corticosteroids, and others for pain management, can cause oral issues.

  • Dry mouth. Xerostomia (dry mouth) is a common side effect of many chronic pain medications. When salivary flow is reduced, the mouth is susceptible to multiple conditions, including speech and swallowing interference, dysgeusia (taste alteration), mouth irritation and inflammation, and an increased risk of periodontal disease and tooth loss. Long-term use of medications that contain sugar as an ingredient may also contribute to tooth decay.
  • Solutions. Drinking water throughout the day is a good way to stay hydrated and maintain adequate levels of saliva. Chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless candy can also help. Your dentist can recommend a moisturizing mouth spray or oral rinse to address dry mouth issues if needed, too.

How can chronic pain cause poor dental hygiene?

Chronic pain may have implications for oral hygiene. The cycle of pain has emotional, physical, and psychological impacts, which can influence a person’s ability to tend to their dental health.

  • Fatigue and reduced range of motion. Lack of energy and bodily pain, particularly in the hands and wrists, can create dexterity issues that impact effective tooth brushing and flossing.
  • Depression. Living with chronic pain plays a role in the mental health of an individual. Depression has been listed as a comorbidity of chronic illness which can impact self care, including optimal dental hygiene.
  • Avoidance. People experiencing chronic pain may tend to avoid ongoing stressors and situations that could lead to further discomfort, such as routine dental visits and procedures. 
  • Solutions. At home, setting reminders to stick with a regular brushing and flossing regimen can help overcome fatigue or memory impairment caused by use of some medications. Modifying the tools used to maintain good oral hygiene, including using toothpaste in a pump instead of a tube, or using floss threaders and picks, can be useful. It’s important not to avoid the dentist chair due to discomfort or pain. Give yourself extra time to rest and recover after a cleaning or treatment. Addressing issues before they lead to larger problems is key. Work with your dentist so they understand what you need to have a comfortable visit.

Chronic pain affects quality of life and can impact oral health, but help is available. Dr. Bains and the team at Lewis Estates Dental Centre are here to offer solutions that work for you. Book an appointment today to find out how you can address dental issues while living with pain.