“I’d love to say it was skateboarding or something really kind of cool,” the 54-year-old said. “But I think I think it’s something that’s important to share because I think it’s literally, probably after heart disease, one of the biggest killers in America, which is stress.
“Stress sheared off my front tooth. But, in an effort to get ready for you, I wanted to make sure my teeth were in.”
A surprised Fallon pressed the mum-of-three to explain exactly how it happened.
“I literally knocked it out – it was almost like it fell out when my warranty was up,” she said to chuckles from the studio audience.
The effect of prolonged stress on our bodies is serious, and implausible as it may sound, stress can, in fact, lead to tooth loss and is associated with dental disease.
“In short, yes stress can cause increase night-time grinding,” said Sydney-based dentist, Dr Steven Lin.
“The issue is caused by sleep breathing – the body pushes the jaw forward to open the airway and the result is we grind our teeth. I see patients that have ground their entire front teeth away.
“Many people have the syndrome (upper airway resistance syndrome) that ultimately doesn’t allow them to breathe at night. If you add stress (light, disturbed sleep) the cycle turns into a vicious one.”
Stress, which more than a third of Australians say they are suffering “significant levels” of, affects more than our mouths.
While stress is an entirely natural response that helps humans react quickly to life-threatening situations, it is not meant to be “switched on” for extended periods.
Stress used to be physical (run fast from the tiger yada yada). Now it is primarily psychological – work deadlines, strained finances, unrealistic expectations, weaker community relationships, struggles in close relationships, health or a lack of sleep – but the perception of stress still manifests physically. And when our stress switch gets jammed “on” the physical impact is great.
It can affect our musculoskeletal system, our respiratory system, our cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, nervous and reproductive systems.
When we feel stress our muscles automatically tense preparing us for flight. When they are chronically tensed, we are more likely to suffer tension headaches or migraines and are at greater risk of a range of musculoskeletal disorders.
Respiratory and cardiovascular systems
Interestingly (and I say interestingly because it seems an unlikely connection), acute stress can bring on an asthma attack. It can also increase the likelihood of heart problems.
“The consistent and ongoing increase in heart rate, and the elevated levels of stress hormones and of blood pressure, can take a toll on the body,” explain the American Psychological Association (APA). “This long-term ongoing stress can increase the risk for hypertension, heart attack or stroke.”
“When cortisol and epinephrine are released, the liver produces more glucose, a blood sugar that would give you the energy for ‘fight or flight’ in an emergency,” the APA said. This spike, if not utilised or reabsorbed can increase the risk of diabetes.
The fight or flight response stops or slows our digestion as our energy diverts to tackle whatever “threat” is causing us stress. “The digestive process may slow or be temporarily disrupted, causing abdominal pain and other symptoms of functional gastrointestinal disorders,” explained Harvard Medical School. It also increases the likelihood of developing a gastrointestinal disorder in the long run.
“Chronic stress, experiencing stressors over a prolonged period of time, can result in a long-term drain on the body,” the APA said.
The nervous system activates a physical response that includes the release of hormones, slows metabolism, dilates blood vessels, speeds up the heart and breath and increases blood sugar for energy.
“It’s not so much what chronic stress does to the nervous system, but what continuous activation of the nervous system does to other bodily systems that become problematic.”
The release of stress hormones over extended periods affects testosterone and sperm production in men, menstruation in women and sex drive in men and women.
What can we do about it
Many stressors can, if not be removed, be managed to minimise their impact, alleviating physical and psychological symptoms. The Australian Psychological Association has a number of suggestions:
▪ Notice the physical symptoms (grinding teeth, tensing shoulders, holding the breath) and become aware of what triggers stress in you. This can help you to prepare, practice staying calm or avoid the trigger.
▪ “Having predictable rhythms and routines in your day, or over a week, can be very calming and reassuring, and can help you to manage your stress,” the say, suggesting regular times for exercise, eating, going to bed, relaxation and jobs.
▪ “Spending time with people you care about, and who care about you, is an important part of managing ongoing stress in your life.”
▪ Look after your health by eating fresh wholefoods, exercising, pursuing activities that provide joy or a sense of calm and avoiding drugs or alcohol as crutches.
▪ Notice negative self-talk. Instead practice soothing, calming self-talk (“I’m coping well given what’s on my plate”, or “calm down”, or “breathe easy”) and put things in perspective (“in the scheme of things this doesn’t matter so much”).
▪ Practice relaxation to settle the nervous system. This might include yoga, meditation, gardening, reading a book, listening to music or some soothing activity that gives you a sense of pleasure.
▪ Seek help from a psychologist if high levels of stress continue over a long period of time.
Call our Dental Practice for advice on 02 4869 3111