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.