Everyone experiences stress from time to time. While stress tends to have a negative connotation, it’s not always a bad thing. In fact, stress is the body’s way of responding to any demand, so it can stem from both positive and negative experiences. For example, good stress—otherwise known as eustress—might be experienced by someone vying for a promotion at work. In this case, the stress is considered good because it’s useful; it’s serving a purpose. Chronic stress, however, can wreak havoc on the body, contributing to countless health problems. The effects of long-term stress on the cardiovascular system, for example, are well-documented. What’s less often considered, though, is how negative stress can impact oral health.
How is stress related to dental health?
There are several ways chronic stress can impact what’s going on inside of your mouth. Let’s consider some of the ways that oral health and stress are linked:
- Canker sores. These small, painful sores that show up in the mouth are somewhat of a mystery. Their cause remains uncertain, although experts speculate they’re linked to an issue with the immune system. There also appears to be a strong link between stress and canker sores; that is, the more stress you have in your life, the more likely you are to suffer from canker sores.
- Cold sores. Canker sores and cold sores are often confused, but they’re actually quite different. While canker sores occur inside of the mouth, cold sores are typically found outside of the mouth—typically on or around the lips. The herpes simplex virus causes cold sores. While cold sores can appear at any time, stress is known to trigger outbreaks.
- Bruxism. Bruxism—or the clenching and grinding of the teeth—is common in both adults and children. Often, sufferers aren’t even aware that they clench and grind because it occurs at night when they’re sleeping. Doctors aren’t entirely sure what causes bruxism, but it appears to be related to stress. Specifically, people are more likely to clench and grind their teeth when they’re experiencing high levels of stress.
- Temporomandibular disorders. Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) affect the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which is a hinge that connects the jaw to the temporal bones of the skull. Temporomandibular disorders can be caused by a variety of factors ranging from injury to misaligned teeth. Stress can exacerbate TMD as a result of overexertion of the jaw muscles, often due to clenching and grinding.
- Poor oral hygiene. It’s not uncommon to neglect oneself during stressful times—and this includes allowing oral health to take a backseat to current stressors. Unfortunately, poor oral hygiene can rapidly lead to various problems in the mouth, including tooth decay and periodontal disease. With continued neglect and lack of treatment, tooth loss might ultimately occur.
How can I prevent stress-related oral health problems?
In addition to making your oral health a priority, the obvious way to prevent stress-related oral health concerns is to focus on finding healthy ways to manage your stress. Consider the following tips:
- Watch what you eat. Sugar and caffeine might give you a temporary “high,” but they’re also likely to cause both your mood and energy level to take a nosedive when they wear off. Make sure to incorporate plenty of fruits and veggies into your diet and hydrate with water frequently.
- Get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep exacerbates stress, anxiety, and depression. Make a conscious effort to get a solid eight hours of sleep each night.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise floods the body with feel-good chemicals, resulting in lowered stress levels.
For more information regarding the effects of stress on your oral health, contact your dentist in Burbank, IL today!