The holiday season is a time for good cheer and making happy memories. Unfortunately, it can also be a time of increased stress. Most people know how stress affects certain functions of the body and how it can take a toll on your well-being and sleep patterns. What you may not know is that being over-stressed can also affect your oral health.
When you have good oral health, in general, your overall health is also good. On the other hand, poor oral health can also indicate or, in some cases, even contribute to poor general health. For example, research shows some links between the condition of teeth and gums and serious health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease, and problems with pregnancy and low birth weight in babies. Stress also can affect these conditions, which increases the risk of serious problems.
Types of Stress
There are several types of stress. Positive stress, labeled eustress by professionals, is known as eustress or “good stress.” This is the type of stress you undergo when something very good happens. The heart rate increases, certain hormones surge, but the threat of fear is not present. Good stress is important for healthy living. This type of stress can release important chemicals into the body. These chemicals rebuild cells, synthesize proteins and enhance immunity. In essence, eustress can help the body become stronger and healthier. Unfortunately, on the other side of the coin is “distress,” which is unhealthy and can be very detrimental.
There are three types of distress that the body can experience. These include acute stress, episodic acute stress and chronic stress. Each type of stress has specific characteristics and symptoms. For example, acute stress does not last long. This type is also the most common type of stress and is usually caused by reactive thinking. Negative thoughts prevail in this type of stress.
Acute stress can be caused by thinking negatively about situations that are about to occur, such as a trip to the dentist. It can also be caused by negative thoughts about something that has recently occurred, such as wondering if your root canal therapy or dental implant will be successful or fail. This type of stress usually dissipates when the stress is removed. For example, you go to the dentist, and your visit works out well, you feel comfortable and relaxed or when you fully understand a procedure, and you stop worrying about it.
Since acute stress does not last too long, it does not harm the body. However, when you have frequent episodes of acute stress, it can begin to take a toll. People with Type A personalities often experience episodic acute stress. The person who worries excessively may also experience this type of stress due to constant negative thinking.
The most harmful type of stress is chronic stress. This type of stress can do considerable damage to your physical and mental health over time. For example, traumatic childhood experiences or traumatic experiences as an adult can cause chronic stress. A failing marriage, substance abuse, unemployment, and lack of financial resources are just a few of the many things that can lead to chronic stress.
Gum Disease and Stress
Ongoing stress can be difficult to manage, especially when circumstances seem way beyond your control. Your immune system can become depleted as the stress wears on. When the body’s natural defense system is compromised, the bacteria in your mouth can do serious damage to your gums. Gingivitis can develop. Fortunately, in its earliest stages, gingivitis is easily treated and can usually be managed with a thorough professional cleaning of the teeth and gums. You may need to use special toothpaste or mouthwash to promote healing. Left untreated, gingivitis can develop into periodontitis which is a more severe form of gum disease. Periodontitis is a serious oral health problem and can also lead to other general health problems.
If you are under constant stress and a worker who must wear a mask for hours at a time, your risk of gum disease is increased even more. By taking steps to maintain good oral hygiene and keep your mouth hydrated, and teeth cleaned and flossed, you can greatly lower your risk of gum disease. If you notice your gums bleeding when you floss, or brush or they are puffy or swollen or bright pink or red, you need to see a dentist right away for diagnosis and treatment.
Bruxism and Stress
If you tend to clench or grind your teeth when undergoing a stressful situation, you could be doing damage to your teeth and jaw muscles when facing the more severe forms of stress. Many people who do when they are asleep are not even aware of it unless someone tells them about it. Teeth grinding or bruxism is often associated with stress.
Grinding your teeth can wear down the tooth enamel causing your teeth to become more susceptible to decay. Also, the wear and tear on your jaw muscles can lead to temporomandibular joint disorder or TMJ/TMD. This condition can produce serious pain in your jaw, headaches and can radiate pain to your neck and shoulders.
Mouth Sores Caused by Stress
A depleted immune system can lead to canker sores or mouth ulcers. These can be very painful and make eating and speaking uncomfortable or difficult. It is not unusual for people experiencing extreme amounts of stress or prolonged stress to develop mouth sores. They usually disappear on their own and do not always need to be treated by a dentist. Over-the-counter medications can be used to help alleviate the pain and discomfort.
Increased Incidence of Tooth Decay
Stress by itself is not necessarily going to cause cavities. Stress can, however, lead to poor choices, which can affect the health of your teeth. For example, comfort foods in times of stress often include sugary and starchy foods. These types of food can contribute to tooth decay. In addition, if you are not staying on top of your oral hygiene, the sugars in these foods have ample chance to feed the harmful bacteria that cause dental decay.
Over time you can develop cavities due to lack of oral hygiene and poor choices with foods and beverages. As with gum disease, if you are a person who must wear a mask for several hours every day, the risk of dental decay is also increased. This is due to the decrease in saliva production and the increase in the proliferation of harmful bacteria.
Stress Medication and Dental Problems
It is important to maintain proper oral hygiene and keep your mouth moist when taking medication for stress. Many of the medicines prescribed for chronic stress will increase your risk of dry mouth. When saliva production is inhibited, the teeth and gums are at an increased risk of disease.
This holiday season and throughout the year, take good care of your teeth and gums. Brush and floss regularly, and remember to stay hydrated, particularly if you must wear a mask.
Many people have been under excessive amounts of stress for the past two years. However, finding healthy ways to cope and manage your stress can help keep your body and mouth healthy. Aesthetic & Implant Dentistry of Atlanta offers excellent dental care, and we are committed to helping our patients achieve and maintain their best oral health. Call to schedule an appointment with us.