How Stress Affects Oral Health and What to Do About It
Stress causes all kinds of hormonal reactions. This makes us typically think of acne, loss of appetite, mood changes, anxiety, and depression. Believe it or not, the same swings in your bodily chemicals, which cause these things, can also greatly affect your tongue, teeth, gums, and jaw. A multitude of oral problems stem from both external and internal stress.
Teeth and Jaw
Your chompers, and the jaws they’re attached to, can be greatly impacted by stress. The biggest one associated with teeth is grinding of the teeth (bruxism), and its detrimental destruction of the teeth. Stress can cause grinding any time of day, though while sleeping is the most common. When you chronically or subconsciously grind your teeth, the tension can chip away tooth enamel and sand down the chewing surfaces.
If left unstopped, bruxism can contribute to another jaw issue: Temporomandibular Disorder, or TMJ. In addition to bruxism, physical trauma or emotional anxiety can trigger any of the symptoms of TMJ, including jaw locking and popping, facial pain and swelling, and headaches. As you’ve read, your teeth and the bone ridge they reside in can be negatively affected by stress, but they are not the only parts of your mouth injured.
Gums and Lips
If the problems that stress can cause in your teeth and jaws aren’t bad enough, wait until you hear about what it can do to your gums and lips. Unchecked, long-term anxiety can trigger infections and virus outbreaks that greatly harm the soft tissues of our oral cavity.
When nervous tension diminishes our immune system, it can’t battle oral infections properly. Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is one such issue. With regular oral care, we can banish the bacteria that create plaque, before it reaches gum disease status. When our immune system is compromised due to stress, that bacteria has free range and grows more rapidly than we can brush, and quicker than our immune system can battle it.
Some experts think that the autoimmune issue known as lichen planus takes root in oral cavities when stress disrupts a hibernating virus or triggers a bodily response. Once activated by stress, the body attacks its own oral tissues, destroying gums, tongue, and inside of the cheeks. This destruction can be in the form of open sores, ulcers, or lines of discoloration.outbreaks are linked to stress.
The unsightly and painful bumps known as canker sores are another example of how stress can wound the gums and lips. No one knows what exactly causes canker sores, but they are sometimes brought on by stress. Habits we undertake while dealing with stressful situations, such as eating greasy or fatty foods, can also produce them around our mouth.
Lastly, burning mouth syndrome is another stress-induced factor that affects our mouth. Mental stress seems to be the most related to this mysterious issue, with complaints of a burning sensation ringing their lips, covering their tongue, and tingling in the gums and roof of the mouth.
In addition to the painful and uncomfortable problems listed above, there are others stress contributes to. In more immediate situations, saliva levels can significantly drop. Over long periods of time, dry mouth can occur. With it comes split or cracked gums and lips, a sore throat, bad breathe, and impaired speaking or chewing.
Stress almost always results in lesser but still serious issues. When we are worried about or dealing with a major life issue, our oral hygiene routines get disrupted. When we don’t brush and floss regularly, we open ourselves up for all the above oral crisis and some even more serious. From here, a downward spiral of bad oral health causes more stress, and soon you’ll find yourself and your mouth in some worst case scenarios. Major dental repairs and thousands of dollars will be the cost.
De-stressing Dos and Don’ts
All the above information can be daunting. After all, you don’t intentionally invite stress into your life. Everyone has stress, but how do we keep our mental and emotional stress from catapulting into oral destruction? Let’s look at some things you should do, and some things you should avoid, to maintain oral care even in life’s hardest circumstances.
DO take care of your whole self. Eat healthy, regular meals and snacks to maintain chemical and nutritional balance, and to keep immune systems strong. Likewise, properly cleanse your mouth with your usual routine. Brush away that bacteria and plaque, floss out food and plaque, and use mouth wash to keep mouth well hydrated and fresh. Nearly as important, de-stress with exercise, relaxation and breathing techniques, or yoga. Do something you enjoy like listening to music, painting, or going for a car ride to a pretty place. By releasing the tension in your body, you can regulate stress hormones and maintain overall well-being.
DON’T turn to alcohol or smoking as a coping mechanism. Both substances erode your teeth and reduce your body’s defense against stress and its other symptoms.
You Can Beat Stress
For all the above reasons and more, it’s vital that you care for yourself when the anxieties of life seem to drown you. As author Astrid Alauda once said, “Don’t let your mind bully your body into believing it must carry the burden of its worries.”
You can care for your body, including your mouth, and keep stress from devastating it.