Stress and oral health are interrelated. There is no denying that stress is a part of life. A small amount of stress can in fact keep you active and get you going. It can trigger either a fight or a flight response through a surge in hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. But excess and long-term stress can undermine your physical and mental health in the form of headache, stomach ache, anxiety, sleep deprivation, irritability, early ageing and even a heart problem. Turns out, it does not spare your oral health either!
The following are the problems and conditions caused by stress and having a direct or indirect link to your dental and oral health:
Poor Oral Hygiene
Being under extreme stress may affect your mood and cause you to skip brushing, flossing, and rinsing.
If you don’t take care of your mouth, your teeth and overall oral health can suffer. If you already have gum disease, skipping daily hygiene may make it worse. If your mouth is healthy, falling short on these tasks can lead to gum disease or make cavities more likely.
When you’re stressed, you may also develop unhealthy eating habits, such as snacking on large amounts of sugary foods or drinks. This can put you at risk for tooth decay and other problems.
Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)
When the mouth doesn’t produce enough saliva, it can experience chronic dryness. Not only does dry mouth result from conditions caused by stress, but it is also a common side effect of drugs used to treat depression. Dry mouth can cause gum related problems or aggravate existing periodontal problems.
Stress causes acid reflux, also known as heart burn. People who routinely suffer from Acid reflex are also prone to tooth erosion.
Canker Sores (Aphthous ulcers)
Do you often get those white or greyish ulcers with red borders in your mouth? Could be, you are stressed out. The causes of these ulcers, also called canker sores, are unknown. They could be due to bacteria, viruses or problems in the immune system. But what is known is that these ulcers can be triggered by stress. Although harmless, these small sores can be painful.There may be a connection between canker sores and stress. If you get canker sores around exam time or some other big event in your life, it may be a sign of how much stress you’re under. In addition, about twice as many women as men get them. Doctors think that may be due to the differences in male and female hormones, especially because women often get them during certain times in their menstrual cycle.
Lichen planus of the mouth is characterized by white lines, sores and ulcers in the oral cavity. Some experts believe lichen planus is a reaction to viral infections caused by stress.
Stress can cause you to habitually grind your teeth at night during sleep (bruxism). Tooth grinding or clenching can wear down or chip your teeth and exert excess force on the tissues supporting the teeth ultimately causing bone loss. Once your teeth lose their supporting bone, you may lose them sooner than you would otherwise.
Stress is also associated with other parafunctional habits or oral compulsive habits such as nail biting. Nail biting is also related to oral problems, such as gingival injury, malocclusion of the anterior teeth and teeth attrition. It can also transfer pinworms or bacteria buried under the surface of the nail from the anus region to the mouth. When the bitten-off nails are swallowed, stomach problems can develop.
When you are stressed, your jaw muscles become sore and painful due to grinding and clenching of the teeth. The muscles also work overtime causing them to become more prominent thus giving you a more pronounced jawline. You may also have pain and discomfort when the jaw joints ultimately pull out of alignment. Stress can also worsen existing jaw joint disorder symptoms like difficulty in biting or chewing, jaw pain, difficulty in mouth opening or closing, etc.
Stress can lead to increase in the frequency and duration of habits like Smoking and Alcoholism which can lead to gums related problems or deteriorate existing periodontal problems. In the day-to-day of life, with all of its stressors and distractions, a person’s eating habits tend to become more of convenience than health. Unfortunately, convenience doesn’t typically go hand in hand with health. People tend to hit the fast food drive through or go for the sugary drinks to get them through the day, which are the worst foods because they are high in sugars and can lead to tooth decay.
The best solution is to manage stress by following stress management techniques, taking up meditation and yoga. Just reminding yourself of the importance of hygiene and healthy eating may help. A regular exercise routine can relieve stress, rev up your energy levels, and encourage you to eat healthier. It may even make you more likely to tend to your mouth. If you are always in a rush, try to plan ahead and fill the house with “to go” fruits, veggies, and bottled water. Your teeth and gums will thank you! Use of ‘Night Guards’ and ‘NTI appliances’ can prevent teeth from harmful effects of bruxism.