Stress is one way our bodies are primed to respond to tense or dangerous situations. It’s thanks to stress that you have the “fight or flight” response.
While some stress can be healthy, too much of it can become a problem. When you’re constantly feeling stressed, your physical and mental health can suffer. Being chronically stressed can also have an adverse effect on the health of your teeth, gums and overall oral health. Here’s what you need to know about stress and your dental health–and what you can do to cope.
Stress Can Make You Clench Your Teeth
When you’re stressed out, your muscles go tense. That tension often contributes to headaches or muscle soreness in other areas of the body.
Being constantly stressed can also cause you to clench your jaw and grind your teeth, contributing to a condition called bruxism. There are two main forms of bruxism: awake and sleep. Stress is often a contributing factor to both. People who grind their teeth at night while they sleep might not even know they’re doing it. They often wake up in the morning with a sore jaw or a headache and not know why.
In addition to causing head and jaw pain, clenching and grinding your teeth can damage your tooth enamel. If you grind a lot for an extended period of time, you can wear down the chewing surfaces of your teeth. Some people discover that their teeth are chipped or cracked, which can sometimes be one of the only signs of bruxism.
Stress Increases the Risk of Sores and Infection
Canker sores are small ulcers or lesions that develop on the inside of the mouth. They usually clear up on their own after a week or two but can be a pain to deal with when you have one. Several things can trigger a canker sore, and one of those factors is a high level of stress.
Cold sores are occasionally confused with canker sores but they are actually very different. They are caused by a viral infection (herpes) and take the form of tiny blisters around the lips, on the exterior of the mouth. Cold sores usually clear up on their own after a few weeks but can return because the virus doesn’t leave the system. Once you have the infection that causes cold sores, one thing that can trigger an outbreak is stress.
Stress Can Affect Oral Hygiene
Although stress isn’t a direct cause of gum disease or cavities, its effects can have an impact on your oral hygiene and oral care routine. If you are feeling too tense, tired or just plain worn out to brush your teeth or floss, it can increase your risk of developing cavities or gum disease.
High levels of stress can also affect your diet. It’s easy and often comforting to eat junk food when you’re feeling maxed out. While junk food is OK in some cases or in moderation, if it’s the primary component of your diet, your body isn’t likely to get the nutrients it needs. This can have a major impact on the health of your gums and teeth.
How You Can De-Stress
Although stress can feel as if it’s taking over your life, there are ways to cope with and manage it. If you are feeling particularly tense, you can take several deep breaths to calm your body down. In some cases, taking a break from whatever is stressing you out and going for a walk can help you calm down.
If you have ongoing, chronic stress, you might need to make significant changes in your life. Examine the cause of the stress, then decide what you can do to fix or eliminate it. For example, if your job is stressful, it might be in your best interests to change careers or find a new position. Spending time with loved ones or talking to a therapist can also help you manage and reduce your stress levels.
If you’re concerned about what stress is doing to your dental health, your dentist can help. Dr. John Paul Gallardo is a periodontal specialist in the Miami area who also offers dental exams and cleanings. He can recommend options that are right for your needs. To schedule an appointment in Miami, FL, call 305-547-8687 today.