In the past few decades researchers have found a definitive link between oral health and specific diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and rheumatoid arthritis, to name a few. Researchers have determined that stress can lead to or exacerbate a number of oral health problems.
They have also determined that the link often represents a two-way street, in that controlling the condition of one, leads to improvements in the other. For example, when gum disease is treated it usually results in a lower demand for insulin in diabetics, while better control of diabetes generally leads to reduced gum disease inflammation.
The Impact of Stress on Your Immune System
Stress is a normal condition marking the body’s reaction to external factors affecting the person’s physical, emotional and mental state of being. When stressed, the body reacts with the “fight-or-flight” response, which includes the release of adrenaline and stress hormones such as cortisol. This doesn’t represent that much of a problem when the response only happens periodically and for a temporary duration; however, when chronic, the stress response persists and proves damaging over time.
Given that stress impacts so many other elements of overall health, it makes sense that it would impact oral health, as well. Researchers know that stress suppresses the immune system and have identified cortisol as an immune system suppressor. Excess cortisol may also play a role in periodontal destruction. A suppressed immune system increases the risk of mouth infections, such as canker sores, cold sores and periodontal disease. It also allows the bacteria in your mouth to flourish, which in turn enhances the likelihood of tooth decay.
The Physical Impacts of Stress on Your Oral Health
Absent the impact stress has on the immune system, chronic stress often causes involuntary teeth grinding and clenching (bruxism). Because this often happens during the sleep cycle, you may not even be aware that you are doing it. Prolonged grinding can wear down teeth, damage the enamel, and cause headaches.
Whether through grinding or other stress-induced tightening of the facial and jaw muscles, stress can also lead to severe pain and discomfort to the jaw and surrounding area in what is known as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). Along with the pain, TMD can cause various jaw malfunctions that can cause problems with chewing, talking, or any actions that rely on opening and closing of the mouth.
Stress can also cause dry mouth, both as a side effect and due to side effects from stress relieving medications. Dry mouth inhibits the natural production of saliva, which is your mouth’s primary defense against bacteria. Thus, any stress-caused reduction in saliva means an increased risk of tooth decay, periodontal disease and oral infections.
Fight Stress and Improve Your Oral Health
The bottom line is that any decrease in stress will likely lead to better overall oral health, due to enhanced immune response, less potential inflammation, reduced muscle tension, and greater ability to focus on oral health maintenance and care. If you are concerned that stress may be impacting your oral health, consider taking these measures:
- Inform your dental practitioner and other health care providers about your stress.
- Ask about getting a custom-fitted night guard if you believe that you are grinding your teeth.
- Avoid tobacco and alcohol, which can increase stress and impede oral health.
- Engage in daily exercise, as it is a known stress reducer.
- Make sure that you don’t let stress distract you from your daily dental care regimen.
- Monitor your diet and resist the temptation to snack on sugary foods and drinks.
The dental-care experts at Island Tower Dentistry are familiar with the impact stress has on oral health, and can help you alleviate many stress-related dental conditions. We have years of experience helping people in the Marco Island, Florida area maintain their oral health, and can work with your doctor to help tailor a plan to relieve stress and better maintain your overall health. To learn more about what the Island Tower team can do for you, contact us today at 239-394-1004 to make an appointment