Can stress affect oral health? Everyone has experienced stress at some point in their lives, whether it be physically, mentally, or emotionally. Stress is actually beneficial as it motivates us to do difficult tasks and meet the demands of daily life. However, too much stress is unhealthy and can have short- and long-term negative effects on our health, our oral health inclusive. Knowing how stress and oral health are linked can help you combat any problems that may arise. Here’s how stress can affect your oral health:
Stress can weaken the immune system, increasing the risk of oral infections.
Some people have a dry mouth due to dehydration, which puts them at a higher risk of developing cavities. Others get canker sores when they are stressed. You are more likely to develop gum disease if you are stressed. Bleeding gums are a symptom of gum disease such as gingivitis or periodontitis, which can be caused or worsened by stress.
Stress can contribute to teeth grinding
The term bruxism refers to the grinding and clenching of the teeth. For some people, clenching and gnashing their teeth is a natural response to stress and frustration. However, teeth grinding usually occurs during sleep, which means that people are not aware of the problem. According to The Bruxism Association, up to 70% of bruxism can be attributed to stress. Teeth grinding, teeth shortening, and jaw pain are all signs of bruxism. Bruxism can also make the teeth translucent.
Stress can make TMD symptoms more severe
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) affects the jaw joint and the associated muscles that make up the jaw and neck. It is estimated that up to 30% of adults will experience TMD at some point in their lives. Like bruxism, stress is believed to be a contributing factor to TMD, causing jaw pain, joint pain, headaches, and even jaw clicking.
Stress can cause canker sores in or around the mouth.
A canker sore is a small spot with a white or grey area surrounded by red boarders in the mouth that can cause pain when you bite or speak. Canker sores are not contagious. Cold sores (also called cold blisters) are painful, fluid-filled, and usually appear outside the mouth, on or around the lips. Cold sores can be contagious to other people. Care should be taken not to share utensils or drinks and not to put your hands in your mouth and touch anything else.
Stress can cause tooth decay and gum disease.
In some cases, people under stress engage in unhealthy behaviours, such as eating or drinking sugary foods throughout the day or not brushing and flossing their teeth. To fight stress, some people drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or take drugs, which increases the risk of oral diseases.
Tips to help manage stress
- Eat healthy food. Eating healthy foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins, helps you feel better and can help control your mood. Skipping meals is unhealthy and can put you in a sour mood, which can increase your anxiety.
- Take care of your mouth. If you grind or clench your teeth, talk to your dentist about getting a mouth guard to prevent tooth damage, jaw pain, and facial nerve pain. Your dentist may also recommend over the counter or prescription medications to treat mouth ulcers and reduce the pain they cause. Don’t forget to brush twice daily and maintain good oral hygiene.
- Seek treatment for inappropriate behaviour. Health professionals can help you change bad habits and find better ways to cope with stress. If you are practicing unhealthy behaviours to reduce stress, ask your doctor, dentist, other health professional or a trusted friend for a recommendation.
- Practice relaxation techniques. To combat stress, it is imperative to activate the body’s relaxation response. You can do this through mindfulness, deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and exercise. These activities can help improve your energy and mood and improve your mental and physical health, including your oral health.
- Get support from your friends, family, and colleagues. Sharing your concerns with friends, family, and colleagues is one of the most effective ways to deal with stress. Having a face-to-face or phone conversation is better than texting or using social media. Have a conversation about what’s going on and listen to other people’s opinions, which can give you ideas on how to cope with stress.
When you’re under a lot of stress or life is tough, the last thing on your mind is your oral health. Learning to cope with life’s inevitable stressors in a positive way will improve your oral and overall health.