Stress. It’s something that we all experience, and in our fast-paced world it seems inevitable to feel anxious every now and then. While many people understand that having high levels of stress or constant stress can wear down your physical health—due to anxiety, panic attacks, weight gain, and lack of sleep—not as many people understand how much of an impact stress can have on your oral health. High levels of stress can impact your mouth, gums, jaw, and teeth in several ways.
Understanding the Stress/Oral Health Link
The term “stress” has a mostly negative connotation, but there are some positive forms of stress—the kind that motivate you to get up in the morning, go to work, and get things done in your life. This eustress, as it’s called, is important in our daily lives. Distress, on the other hand, is the negative kind that if left unchecked can lead to serious health consequences.
When you experience high stress levels you may compound the problem by engaging in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking or tobacco use, alcohol use, or consuming foods that are high in sugars and low in nutrients. You may also neglect important oral health routines such as brushing and flossing daily, and all of these things can add up to problems for your mouth.
Common Conditions Related to Stress
There are several oral health conditions that often manifest in people who have high stress levels. These include:
Canker sores – small sores on the interior of your cheeks, gums, or the roof of your mouth that can be painful and are sometimes linked to stress.
Bruxism – people suffering from this condition grind their teeth during the night, which can wear down tooth enamel, destroy health teeth, and cause pain and soreness when you wake up. A night guard can often help with this condition.
Dry mouth – chronic dryness from lack of saliva production can lead to increased bacteria in your mouth and higher risk of gum disease and tooth decay. Dry mouth can be caused by stress, or can be a side effect of medications to treat conditions that result from high stress such as anxiety or depression.
TMJ – temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ) can contribute to stress and result in grinding teeth and pain in the jaw area.
Persistent gum disease – when you are stressed for a prolonged period of time the high levels of cortisol and the inability to respond to other hormonal controls can increasing inflammation, negatively impacting your immune system and your body’s ability to fight disease. This puts you at higher risk of developing gum disease and infections and makes it harder for your body to heal when you do get a disease.
Reducing Stress for Better Oral Health
When you are feeling stressed, here are a few ways you can reduce or control it:
- Accept that you cannot control every situation
- Try to look at the positive side of things
- Create a routine to help stop stress as you feel it coming—take a walk, talk to someone, or practice deep breathing techniques or meditation
- Exercise regularly
- Add things to your life that are fun or pleasurable, such as reading, gardening, or spending time with friends
- Plan out each day so you can manage your time efficiently
- Avoid alcohol, drugs, and smoking
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals each day
- Get at least 7 hours of sleep each night
If you still feel overwhelmed and stressed, reach out to friends and family for help, or seek out professional help such as a therapist or support group. When stress is impacting your oral health, talk to your dentist for suggestions on proper oral care to minimize the damage. If you don’t have a dentist, you can contact The Dental Clinic at Roseman University at 801-878-1200 for affordable dental care in the Salt Lake valley. By reducing negative stress in your life you can have better overall health, better oral health, and a better smile.
It has become extremely important to have regular health examinations to prevent or discover any early signs of cancer or other diseases, since modern medicine often provides many treatment options for cancers and other diseases when they are caught early. This stands true for dental health as well. Dentists find approximately 84 percent of oral cancer cases when doing screenings on patients and individuals who have either found an abnormal growth or those who might be at heightened risk due to factors such as age, family history, alcohol use, or tobacco use. It is important to ask your dentist if he or she feels you need an oral screening.
Oral Cancer Screening
Here is what you can expect when it comes to an oral cancer screening.
- There is no special preparation you need prior to an oral cancer screening, and screenings are typically performed during a regular dental visit.
- If you are wearing any sort of dentures or removable implants, your dental professional should remove those before the examination begins.
- Some dentists will ask you to rinse your mouth with a special blue dye prior to the examination. The dye will absorb into abnormal cells, making them more visible for the dentist.
- Your dentist should examine and inspect the inside and outside of your gums and cheeks throughout your entire mouth. Your lips and the floor and roof of your mouth will also be inspected for any patches or sores.
- Your lymph nodes, jaw area and around your ears will be checked.
- Expect your dentist to ask you to stick out your tongue and say “ahhh” in order to examine the back of your throat and mouth.
If your dental care provider does find anything that looks abnormal, he or she may recommend a couple of options. One is a “wait and see” approach with a simple follow-up visit to see if the irregular area is still there after a few weeks. If your dentist believes you might be at risk or that the abnormality is severe, he or she will often recommend a biopsy to remove a sample of cells to be tested for cancer.
Oral cancer screenings are very simple and practically stress-free for you; however they are extremely important for your overall health.
Your teeth are a part of physical health and overall appearance that many people take for granted. In fact, a lot of people might not notice oral health issues until they become major problems that take significant time and money to correct. Remember these oral hygiene basics to keep your teeth and gums in good shape between dental visits.
Brush your teeth at least twice a day, or more if recommended by your dentist, using a soft-bristled brush and toothpaste with fluoride in it. If you are prone to plaque build-up, consider an electric toothbrush, which is often better at removing plaque than manual brushing.
Floss daily to clean between teeth and under the gum line. Break off about 18 inches of floss each time, and wrap the excess around your fingers to help you hold it steady. Work the floss in between your teeth one at a time, then curve the floss to help you clean against the sides of each tooth that are touching.
Other Oral Hygiene Tips
Consider using a fluoride mouthwash every day to remove bacteria in the mouth. There are also a number of specialty products available such as the oral irrigator, a device that uses a stream of concentrated water to remove food particles from between teeth. This device can be safer and less damaging to gums than using floss for the same purpose if your dentist has recommended that floss may be harmful to your gums.
Oral Hygiene Red Flags
Keep an eye out for red flags that indicate you should see a dentist as soon as possible:
- Red, swollen or bleeding gums are a major sign of gum disease, which can lead to tooth loss if left untreated
- Loss of or damage to a tooth should also be examined by a dentist, even if the tooth is only chipped or cracked and doesn’t hurt that badly
- Other changes you notice like unusual sensitivity to temperature should be reported to an oral health provider
The key to healthy teeth and gums is to establish a daily routine. These tips work best when you do them regularly.