Stress is something that everyone experiences at a point in their lives, for various reasons. Although it has no singular definition, it is most commonly recognized as “a physical, mental or emotional strain or tension.” For many people, dental problems or even the thought of visiting the dentist can cause a degree of stress. But did you know that dental problems can develop as a result of stress? Learn how this prevalent feeling of anxiety can impact your oral health, and tactics to ease or resolve it.
Side Effects of Stress on Oral Health
When we feel stressed, especially in long bouts, we can unconsciously start bad habits or incite unnecessary bodily responses.
The following are common side effects of stress that impact our oral health:
• Gum Disease – Long-term stress can affect our immune system, increasing our susceptibility to infections, including periodontal disease.
• TMJ/TMD – Stress can contribute to temporomandibular joint disorders. Tooth grinding and trauma are common causes of TMD. Emotional factors such as depression and anxiety can also provoke symptoms.
• Canker Sores – No one knows the exact cause of canker sores, but they are believed to be brought on by stress. While harmless, they are painful.
• Lichen Planus – Lichen planus is identified by white lines, sores and ulcers in the mouth.
• Bruxism – Stress can cause us to grind our teeth at night, potentially leading to tooth damage. Your dentist can diagnose you with bruxism, and recommend or custom make a night guard.
• Burning Mouth Syndrome – Psychological problems are just one of the many factors known to cause a burning sensation throughout the mouth.
• Dry Mouth – When the mouth doesn’t produce enough saliva, it can experience chronic dryness, and potentially halitosis. Not only does dry mouth result from conditions caused by stress, but it is also a common side effect of some prescription medications used to treat depression.
Just as common, people who experience stress are known to neglect their oral hygiene routine. This combination of forgetful or neglectful cleanliness, and an influx of sugar and carbs, presents an increased risk of tooth decay.
How Does Stress Cause Cavities?
Would you believe that stress can increase the likelihood that you develop a cavity? You better! Medical science has shown that stress, and the associated neglect of oral hygiene, puts people at greater risk. As previously mentioned, stress can trigger an underproduction of saliva (dry mouth), an element necessary to rid your mouth of acids. And stress can set off your immune system, compromising the ability to deter cavities. Unfortunately, stress and cavities are like a never-ending cycle. Stress can cause a cavity, and a cavity can cause you to stress. So, how do we stop this damaging cycle?
How to Reduce Stress
Alleviating stress of any variety is never easy. It takes patience and consistent action.
Try these avenues to prevent further stress in your life.
• Exercise – Exercise is known to cause a reduction of the release of stress hormones, improve your sleep and build confidence. Regular exercise in particular is the most beneficial for long-term relief.
• Supplements – Before adding any supplement to your regime, consult your doctor, as it may interact with prescription medications you’re taking. Also, research any supplement you’re considering to learn about possible side effects. For example, kava kava is marketed in the United States as a treatment for anxiety, but has been implicated as a cause of liver damage, and banned from the market in Europe and Canada. Supplements that may provide benefits and are generally considered safe include omega-3, green tea (liquid or extract) and valerian.
• Relaxation – Sometimes, relieving stress is as simple as gifting ourselves with some much-needed relaxation. Draw a bath, light a calming candle, listen to soothing music or practice mindfulness.
• Reduce caffeine – Tea, coffee, energy drinks and more contain caffeine. As a stimulant, high doses are known to cause anxiety to the point you become jittery. If you regularly experience such side effects, consider significantly reducing your intake, or cutting it out altogether.
• Introduce stress-reducing habits – There are several habits and activities known to reduce stress. These include deep breathing exercises, practicing yoga, and spending time with pets, family and friends. You may be surprised to learn that chewing gum (sugarless, of course) is a highly effective stress-buster, and that the artificial sweetener xylitol can actually help prevent cavities! Identify the aspects of your life that bring you joy and calmness, and incorporate them more frequently.
Have you experienced any of the previously mentioned conditions, and think it may be due to stress? At NK Family Dental, we can diagnose and treat your symptoms to help you find the relief necessary to live in health and comfort.
Contact us to schedule an appointment today to start on the path to optimal oral health.