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Does Stress Affect Your Oral Health?

We all know that stress can play a major role in our health and wellbeing.

From promoting weight gain to causing anxiety to affecting our quality of sleep, stress has a way of working itself into nearly every aspect of our lives. Our oral health is no exception.

Since the world is experiencing higher levels of stress than normal, it’s important to understand how stress can affect your mouth, teeth, and gums.

Over time, stress can lead to everything from mouth sores to gum disease to TMJ, but there are things you can do to address these problems and mitigate your risk.

Dry Mouth

When you suffer from stress, you have a greater risk of developing dry mouth. Dry mouth can also be a side effect of medications used to treat stress, anxiety, and depression.

While the day-to-day effect is mostly just an uncomfortable feeling, over time dry mouth can lead to tooth decay and gum disease because the lack of saliva lowers the body’s defense against bacteria and fungi in the mouth. If you suffer from dry mouth, your dentist might be able to prescribe a saliva substitute.

Nail Biting

Nail-biting may be a common and seemingly harmless reaction to stress, but it can affect your oral health in various ways.

Germs from your hands and nails can cause infections in the mouth and lead to bacteria and viruses working their way into the rest of your body. For anyone with warts on their hands, biting your nails can potentially transfer those warts to your mouth.

Smoking

While stress doesn’t cause smoking, plenty of individuals will reach out to their vice in times of high anxiety, especially among smokers. This bad habit can contribute to gum disease, heart conditions, dry mouth, and halitosis.

Bruxism

Feeling stressed out sends a message to our muscles to tense up, often causing us to clench our jaws and grind our teeth.

Though this can happen at any time of the day or night, it most commonly occurs while we’re sleeping and don’t even realize it’s happening. This can cause a host of issues including chipped teeth and horrible headaches. It can also lead to TMJ, resulting in chronic swelling, pain, and locking in the jaw. Your dentist will likely recommend a nightguard to be worn while you sleep.

Canker Sores

When our body is under high levels of stress, it produces a greater amount of the hormone cortisol, which can wreak some serious havoc on the immune system.

Often, stress and lower immunity manifest in the form of canker sores in various parts of the mouth. While canker sores aren’t contagious, they have the potential to be very painful. This can be addressed with an over-the-counter numbing gel, or your dentist might prescribe a steroid if you get canker sores often. They typically go away on their own in roughly a week to 10 days.

Eliminating Stress for Better Oral Health

Finding ways to reduce your stress will have a significant impact on your overall health, as well as that of your teeth and gums. Get plenty of sleep, focus on eating a healthy diet, find ways to laugh and smile each day, and get some stress-eliminating endorphins with a regular exercise routine.

While you may not be able to get rid of all your stress, it is still important to stay on top of your oral hygiene. Brush twice daily, floss before you go to bed- do whatever it is that keeps your oral care consistent! Most of all though, book an appointment with your dentist every six months.