What? Stress and oral health, really?
Stress is popularly known to be a deterrent to mental health but what a lot of people don’t know is that there are oral consequences to stress as well.
Everyone has some sort of stress in their lives and one way of coping up with stress is to let it out, even if you don’t want to. Your body finds ways of letting stress out in the form of habits and sometimes even diseases.
Study after study have shown that there is a positive relationship between stress and increased oral health complications.
Research indicates that chronic stress is likely to contribute to the progressive, long-term development of oral disease through at least two distinguishable ways. First, stress can motivate individuals to cope in unhealthy ways that foster oral disease (e.g., substance use, including illicit drugs, alcohol and tobacco, poor diet, and sedentary behavior). Second, chronic stress contributes to high allostatic load (Allostatic load is “the wear and tear on the body” which accumulates as an individual is exposed to repeated or chronic stress) that can lead to the dysfunction of physiological systems critical to homeostasis (Homeostasis is any self-regulating process by which an organism tends to maintain stability while adjusting to conditions that are best for its survival), and thus, affect the underlying mechanisms of disease progression, more generally.
Here are some of the most common oral consequences to stress:
- Teeth grinding: Clenching or grinding (Bruxism) can cause damage to your teeth and enamel as well as headaches and soreness in the jaw. More often than not those that clench, grind or gnash their teeth are not even aware they are doing it. In certain cases, grinding teeth can even result in a loosening, fracturing or loss of teeth.
- Gum diseases: Stress can severely affect your immune system and like any other body organ, this can make your gums susceptible to a variety of infections including gum disease. Gum disease (also known as periodontal disease) is caused by an accumulation of bacterial plaque at the point where your teeth and your gums meet. It is a condition that affects the soft tissues and bone that support and anchor the teeth. In its mildest form it can lead to inflamed or bleeding gums, while more advanced forms can result in bone loss, gum recession and eventually, tooth loss.
- Dry Mouth: Dry mouth occurs when there is not enough saliva, or spit to keep your mouth moist and comfortable. Dry mouth is both a side effect of stress as well as the medicines used to treat stress and depression. The mouth’s first line of defense against bacteria is saliva, and without it there is an increased risk of tooth decay, gum disease and infection.
- Cancer Sores: A cancer sore is a small, shallow open wound (or an ulcer) which can make eating and talking uncomfortable and painful. They are also known as aphthous ulcers. While cancer sores are unharmful at large, they can be a huge inconvenience to a patient and cause pain to them.
- Tooth decay: Stress can alter lifestyles and can throw you into an organized lifestyle and unhealthy life choices which may lead to an un-routine oral care.
- TMJ Disorder: TMJ stands for temporomandibular joints. These are the joints that you use to move your lower jaw. They are located just below your ear. Swelling or stiffness in these joints can cause a TMJ disorder. Symptoms can include pain, clicking and popping. Stress is a major cause of TMJ problems.
- Burning mouth: Burning mouth syndrome is a dry, hot and burning feeling in your mouth. Many things can cause this. Stress, anxiety and depression may be part of the problem.
- Nail biting: Nail-biting is a stress related habit that can be harmful for your oral health and overall health as well. It can move your teeth out of position. It can also damage your teeth. Adding the germs from your fingernails to your mouth can lead to mouth infections too.
The list goes on.
Stress can be very complicated to deal with and the worst part of it is that it is something that one can’t really just do away with. Stress can only be handled and not eliminated from one’s life. One of the ways to do that is to include in your lifestyle activities and things that can help you release stress.
So, just remember, when you take a break from life, enjoy it, you are doing it not only for yourself, but your teeth as well!