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Stress and Oral Health

Stress is a silent killer. It’s been recognised as contributing to conditions such as heart disease, asthma, diabetes, obesity, headaches, anxiety, depression, gastrointestinal problems, Alzheimer’s, aging and ultimately death. So, it’s pretty clear that anything we can do to reduce stress is a good thing – but many of us give little thought as to how stress affects the health of our mouth.

While we may all react to stress differently when our immune system is weakened, it triggers our brain to seek comfort foods or form unhealthy habits like drinking alcohol and smoking. These damaging habits can place your oral health at risk.

Early detection of oral health issues can help save your gums, teeth, and jaws from the long-term effects of stress. Talk to your dentist about your overall health so they can address the impact of stress on your dental health.

Even when you are stressed, it is still important to visit your dentist every six months. This can help your dentist identify any signs of stress on your oral health, which may include:

1. Poor Oral Hygiene

When stressed, self-care becomes less important, and indulging in mind-boosting foods high in carbs, sugar, and caffeine brings comfort. An imbalanced diet and inattention to an oral hygiene routine can cause plaque buildup, caries, and even tooth loss.

2. Dry Mouth

Saliva removes food particles from teeth, keeps teeth moist, remineralizes enamel, and helps fight bacteria. But when you are stressed, you experience reduced saliva production resulting in more plaque buildup and an increased likelihood of dental issues. Overuse of alcohol and tobacco can also cause dry mouth leading to tooth decay and gum disease. Saliva evaporates and the mouth becomes dry, leading to bad breath. This happens because the odorous gases created by bacteria in the mouth, which are generally suppressed by spit and swallowed away, are free to be released into the air. Additionally, bacteria are much more likely to stick to the surfaces of a dry mouth, which can further enhance the sour smell.

3. Clenched Jaws

Stress may make you clench and grind your teeth. Clenching or biting the top and bottom teeth together tightly happens mostly during waking hours. Grinding is more common during sleep and occurs when the top and bottom teeth rub together. Clenching and grinding can wear down or chip teeth, cause jaw pain, and strain muscles in the face.

4. Teeth Grinding

Teeth grinding or bruxism is a common action when you are stressed and anxious. Most people are unaware they are grTeeth grinding or bruxism is a common action when you are stressed and anxious. Most people are unaware they are grinding their teeth, especially at night while they sleep. Teeth grinding causes significant wear and tear on your teeth, resulting in chipped or loose teeth, tooth sensitivity, tongue indentations, and pain in your temples.

5. Decreased Immune Response

When you are stressed, your immune system is compromised, making it harder for your body to fight infections. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol triggers protein production in the gums that causes inflammation increasing your chances of developing gum diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis.

6. Cold Sore Blisters

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus and are usually inactive unless triggered by stress. While herpes simplex typically manifests as lesions on the lips or corners of the mouth, they can also appear on your gums which can make it challenging to brush and floss. Cold sores tend to last between 5-7 days, and refraining from brushing for such a long period puts you at a high risk of developing tooth decay and gum disease.

7. Canker Sores

Canker sores are mouth ulcers that occur inside the mouth. They can be triggered by overzealous toothbrushing and biting your cheek, eating highly acidic foods, and smoking, but also by stress.

Maintaining Your Oral Health When Stressed is Important

The best way to fight the negative effects of stress on your oral and overall health is to remove the source. If that is not possible, yoga, meditation, journaling, exercise, or counseling may help reduce your tension. Your dentist can also recommend specific treatment based on your symptoms. For example, they may schedule more frequent dental cleanings, orthodontic treatment to correct teeth alignment or fit you for a nightguard to combat bruxism. It’s also important to follow a good oral hygiene routine. Continue to brush twice a day, floss and use mouthwash, and have your teeth and gums evaluated regularly by your dentist.


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