Stress and Your Oral Health

All of us feel stressed and anxious from time to time, and sometimes that stress shows itself in tight shoulder muscles or tension headaches. Stress can affect your health in other ways, too. Your blood pressure rises, the immune system can become overworked, and you may develop a tendency to get sick more easily than usual. Mental health can be affected, and you may become impatient and irritable. It's not surprising, then, that stress can also have an impact on your oral health, such as with bruxism, TMD, canker sores, and gum disease.

Stress and Bruxism

This is an easy relationship to understand. When many people are stressed, they clench and grind their teeth. This condition is called bruxism. Usually, people brux in their sleep, or they do it unconsciously during the day. They may not even realize they have a problem until their jaws are consistently sore or they suffer dull headaches. If not treated, bruxism wears teeth down and fractures weakened teeth.
Stress and TMD

"TMD" stands for temporomandibular disorder. (You may have heard this referred to as "TMJ.") This problem is caused by any condition that prevents the muscles, nerves, and bones of the jaw joint from working smoothly. The results of this disorder are usually facial pain and tight jaw muscles, and sometimes popping noises and difficulty closing and opening the mouth. Any excessive strain on the muscles of the jaw can lead to TMD, including stress and bruxism.

Stress and Canker Sores

Although the cause of canker sores hasn't been identified, it's long been known that they can be triggered by stress. A study in a recent issue of General Dentistry, for example, reported that students have a high prevalence of canker sores before graduation, yet the rates fall after graduation, when stress levels are also lower.

Stress and Gum Disease

Amazingly enough, when people are stressed over money, their risk of gum disease increases twofold. Early in 1999, a study by the School of Dental Medicine, State University of New York at Buffalo revealed that there is a significant correlation between financial stress and symptoms of gum disease, like pockets around the gums and bone loss. Delving deeper, the study showed that financially concerned individuals who didn?t cope well with their stress had more bone loss than those who had practical ways of dealing with their anxiety.

Researchers also found that stress, along with a lack of skills for coping with stress, can lead a person to change their health habits, including reducing their oral home care or grinding their teeth. Stress can also lead to changes in the flow of saliva and a weakening of the body?s ability to fight infection. Together, these factors most likely explain the higher instances of gum disease.

What You Can Do

There are ways of preventing or lessening the health problems that can be caused by stress. While you are working to resolve the issue that is causing the stress, try helping your body out by exercising regularly, doing yoga, meditating, laughing at funny movies, jokes, or books, or listening to relaxing music.
Take special care to eat a balanced diet and get enough sleep. You might also try signing up for a stress reduction program at a local hospital and talking with your physician about other strategies.

In the meantime, make sure you continue your regular appointments with us so we can monitor your oral health. All of the conditions that we've mentioned in this article can be treated, and more serious problems prevented. And don?t forget to brush and floss thoroughly every day.