3 Ways Stress Affects Your Oral Health
Everyone feels stress from time to time. You might feel anxious when you arrive late to an important work meeting. You may feel bothered when your roommate asks for money when he or she hasn't paid rent yet. Or you could feel agitated when your parents expect you to host the next family reunion.
While some stress keeps you on your toes and ready to tackle problems, chronic stress can lead to exhaustion, muscle tension, and high blood pressure. Furthermore, stress can have a negative impact on your oral health, putting you at risk for the following problems.
When you feel impatient, frustrated, or angry, you may grind your teeth or clench your jaw to keep from lashing out at someone. This habit may help you avoid saying something you regret, but you may regret the impact it has on your teeth.
Teeth grinding, or bruxism, puts a lot of unnecessary force on your teeth. Over time, your teeth may fracture, loosen, or fall out under the pressure and strain. Bruxism also wears away at your teeth, leaving you with shorter, smaller, and more sensitive teeth.
What You Can Do
During the day, you'll want to practice different techniques to break the habit. For example, you may try to relax your jaw by keeping your lips together and letting your teeth rest slightly apart. Or you could try visual cues such as a sticker on your phone or a string around your finger to remind yourself to take a deep breath and relax.
At night, you'll want to wear a mouth guard to cushion your teeth and absorb the impact. Schedule an appointment with your dentist to create a custom-fitted mouth guard.
2. Periodontal Disease
Stress triggers the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that suppresses the body's inflammation response. In chronic stress situations, your body quickly adapts and develops a resistance to cortisol and doesn't respond to the hormone as it should. Soon, your body ramps up its production of chemicals that promote inflammation, and your immune system takes a hit.
With inflammation on the rise and your immune system compromised, your oral health may quickly decline. Your mouth will have a much harder time fighting the bacteria, and your gums may swell because of the inflammatory response. If left unchecked, the condition may lead to periodontal disease and symptoms such as bleeding gums, tooth sensitivity, receding gums, and loose teeth.
What You Can Do
When you learn proper coping responses and stress management techniques, you can keep your stress under control and give your immune system a boost. Deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation can keep you calm and give your mind a chance to think clearly.
In addition to managing stress, you can manage your oral health through regular brushing and flossing. Rinsing with an antibacterial mouthwash can also kill germs that would otherwise attack your gums and teeth and lead to periodontal disease.
3. Canker Sores
Although experts remain baffled by the true cause behind canker sores, many theorize that these small ulcers result from stress. As stress decreases the immune system and increases the likelihood of clenching the teeth (bruxism) and biting the cheeks, you may see these sores pop up more often during and after intense situations.
Fortunately, canker sores are not contagious. However, they can be quite painful and can make chewing and speaking more difficult.
What You Can Do
If you find that canker sores tend to occur more often when you feel stressed, give yourself a break and step away from your problems for an hour or two every day. Don't be afraid to say no to things that would add stress to your life, and use your extra time to pursue your own hobbies and interests.
To alleviate canker sore pain, rinse your mouth with salt water for 30 seconds. The sodium chloride will create an alkaline environment in which bacteria will struggle to survive.
Take Care of Yourself
While the above tips can help you minimize the damage stress can do to your oral health, don't forget that stress can cause a variety of other problems as well. If you regularly suffer from stress, schedule an appointment with your doctor as well as your dentist. These medical professionals can help you get back on the right track and suggest the best techniques for managing your health.