Dawn Woodward: Achy Breaky Heart

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The link between a broken heart and poor oral health, by Dawn Woodward

There aren’t many events in the calendar that encourage good oral hygiene – in fact, it’s usually quite the opposite. However, when it comes to Valentine’s Day, dental professionals can rejoice in the fact that many patients take a very keen interest in their oral health. After all, there’s nothing like a scale and polish or tooth whitening to get you date ready.

Unfortunately, not everyone will be thinking of their smile this February, least of all those who are going through a break-up – which could be a significant amount according to one report. Indeed, it has been suggested that more couples split in the run up to Valentine’s Day than any other time of the year [1].

Given that a break-up can have a negative impact on both mental and physical health – including oral health – it may be worth looking out for some of the symptoms in case your patients are affected.

Depression is a common outcome of a separation but research shows that it’s more than just feeling sad – an unwanted break-up can actually cause physical pain. So, if you’ve ever heard anyone say that they’re ‘hurting’, they’re not being dramatic. Evidence shows that sensory components of pain become active in the brain during this time [2].

Love really does hurt! Science also shows that breaking up with someone can result in feelings of severe withdrawal, similar to what a cocaine addict waiting for their next hit would experience [3]. This can have a severe impact on a person’s ability to focus or function properly and as such, should not be taken lightly. It doesn’t stop there either.

In some instances, a bad break-up can cause the heart to temporarily enlarge leading to cardiovascular issues. This is known as cardiomyopathy, otherwise known as ‘broken heart syndrome’ [4]. Fortunately, it is usually treatable and most people who suffer from this condition make a full recovery, but it is a problem to be taken seriously nonetheless.

Other issues that can occur include sore muscles due to adrenaline and cortisol being released, as well as skin breakouts and trouble eating and sleeping. To say a person goes through the mill during a break-up is an understatement. Luckily, for those with a broken heart, these symptoms usually pass with time and they can make a full recovery. However, it is possible that some problems may continue long after the broken heart has healed if the effects of the break-up spread to the mouth.

Stress, in particular, can have a negative impact on oral health as it can contribute to tooth grinding, xerostomia, canker sores and periodontal disease [5]. Research shows that the risk of dental caries is also much higher in those suffering from stress [6].

There are four main reasons for this; firstly, stress can affect the immune system and compromise resistance to cariogenic bacteria. Alongside this, the cortisol level of the body increases, which produces acid and creates a breeding ground for bacteria.

Stress also reduces saliva, resulting in decreased clearance of cariogenic bacteria, and can lead to unhealthy eating habits such as frequent snacking, binge eating and increased sugar consumption.

Last but not least, it is well known that feeling stressed impairs self-care habits. When someone is feeling down, the last thing they’re thinking about is oral health. That’s when poor practises can develop and oral hygiene can take a back seat. It doesn’t take long for this to cause problems, especially if poor diet is also an issue. So, what can be done?

As a dental professional, it’s not in your job description to provide counsel to broken-hearted patients, but there are steps you can take to alleviate some of the discomfort caused by their breakup. For instance, it may be worthwhile warning them that there are certain events – including break-ups – that can trigger oral health issues and certain behaviours can exacerbate the problem.

Equally, make it clear that they would need to stay vigilant with their oral hygiene during these times. There are a number of oral healthcare products you could suggest to help make a difference. So, if you want to put a smile on your patients’ face this Valentine’s, take action now.


Dawn Woodward is the National Sales Manager for Curaprox UK (https://www.curaprox.com/gb-en). She observes: “For a safe, gentle and effective clean, Curaprox recommends the Hydrosonic Pro toothbrush, which is equipped with a powerful motor that provides up to 42,000 motions per minute.

“It is also uniquely designed with ultra-fine CUREN® filaments and CURACURVE® ergonomics that ensure a gentle clean – even in hard-to-reach areas – making the Hydrosonic Pro the ideal tool for any patient looking to protect their oral health.”


1] The Sun. ‘What is Red Tuesday and why do so many couples break up around Valentine’s Day?’. Published 12 February 2019. Accessed online 20 November 2019 at https://www.thesun.co.uk/fabulous/8409357/valentines-day-2019-red-tuesday/

2] Kross E, Berman MG, Mischel W, Smith EE, Wager TD. Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain. PNAS April 12, 2011. 108 (15) 6270-6275. Accessed online 20 November 2019 at https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1102693108

3] Fisher HE, Brown LL, Aron A, Strong G, Mashek D. Reward, Addiction and Emotion Regulation Systems Associated with Rejection in Love. J Neurophysiol 2010. 104: 51– 60. Accessed online 20 November 2019 at http://www.helenfisher.com/downloads/articles/Fisher-et-al-Rejection.pdf

4] American Heart Association. ‘Is Broken Heart Syndrome Real?’ Accessed online 20 November 2019. Click HERE

5] Kaur S, Nain J. Effect of Stress on the Oral Health. J Adv Med Dent Scie Res 2019; 7 (3):118-122. Accessed online 20 November 2019. Click HERE

6] Jain M, Singh A, Sharma A. Relationship of Perceived Stress and Dental Caries among Pre University Students in Bangalore City. J Clin Diagn Res 2014; 8 (11): 131-134. Accessed online 20 November 2019 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4290324/


Photos in body text by Aliyah Jamous , Kelly Sikkema, and Nick Fewings on Unsplash. Author portrait supplied.