How Stress Impacts Oral Health

Stress Impacts Oral Health

Stress is woefully unavoidable, a necessary part of life that can impact us in many ways. If managed well, a little stress can help push us to achieve our goals and complete our daily tasks. If allowed to build up, however, it can easily overwhelm us and cause a host of psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, and irritability. Our physical health is also often influenced by stress, manifesting itself via unpleasant consequences like headaches, fatigue, insomnia, acne outbreaks, decreased resistance to bacteria and viruses, and heartburn.

For obvious reasons, we rely upon our mouths to exist. A healthy mouth enables us to eat properly and consume an endless array of delicious foods, stay hydrated and is one of the several ways we can efficiently communicate with one another and express ourselves. When our oral health is diminished, so too is our life as a whole.

Did you know that stress has a direct influence on your oral health?

Canker Sores

Canker sores are small sores the can develop on gums, the inside of lips and cheeks, and the corners of the mouth. Physicians believe one of the primary causes of these painful little sores to be stress, as significant and persistent tension is known to inhibit the immune system. These ulcers typically only last one to two weeks and can make speaking and eating painful.

Grinding Teeth

Bruxism, or the action of habitually grinding one’s teeth, can seriously damage your teeth and alter the alignment of your jaw. Teeth may become chipped, cracked, loose, and extremely sensitive, and in acute, long-term cases may fall out altogether. Grinding your teeth can also generate headaches and harm your temporomandibular joint, the joint that connects your jaw to your skull and allows you to open and close your mouth. Teeth grinding is a condition found amongst as much as 31% of the world’s population and involves clenching and grating teeth together subconsciously while sleeping. It is believed that stress, depression, and anxiety facilitate most cases. To help mitigate bruxism, a variety of devices can be worn while sleeping.

Tooth Decay

For many individuals, stress leads to a reduction in appetite or simply not caring about what one eats. Not obtaining the nutrients necessary to maintain a healthy mouth and body, and consuming sugary fare like chocolate and pop, dramatically increases the chances of developing tooth decay. In addition, stress may negatively influence oral hygiene. Stress and depression can seriously hinder one’s motivation to complete seemingly simple tasks such as brushing and flossing, and this, in turn, spells trouble for your mouth.

Gum Disease

Gum disease, or periodontitis, affects millions of people per year and is characterized by red, inflamed, sore gums. It can also involve bleeding gums, receding gums, and even tooth loss. Typically, periodontal disease is brought about by poor oral hygiene or malnutrition. In some instances, stress may lower or demolish ambitions to perform necessary tasks like brushing one’s teeth and flossing. Over time, this neglect can lead to gum disease. Furthermore, countless research studies have found that stress weakens the immune system, making your body notably more susceptible infections and diseases, including periodontitis.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth is a common side effect of stress and is made worse by the common occurrence of forgetting to stay hydrated while attempting to cope and meet daily deadlines. Our saliva helps protect our mouth (and by extension, our body) from harmful bacteria, washes away food particles that would otherwise nestle itself in our teeth and produce cavities, and aids in keeping bad breath at bay. Not staying hydrated hinders these natural, essential processes.

Chewing on Lips

You’ve likely noticed people twisting their mouths about oddly as they chew on their lips or the inside of their cheeks. For some, this may simply be a habit. For others, it’s a nervous reaction to stress and can cause unhealthy, painful and bleeding lips, scarred tissue on the inner cheeks, and opens the mouth to a host of bacteria and potential infections.

Dietary Habits

Feeling unhappy and strained often results in unhealthy eating habits, from consuming greater quantities of junk food to forgoing eating altogether. Malnutrition is a factor involved in the development of gum disease, bad breath, tooth decay and cavities, and canker sores. Furthermore, some may consume alcohol when stressed. In excessive amounts, especially when paired with poor dental hygiene and nutrition, alcohol eats away at tooth enamel. What’s more, regularly consuming substantial quantities of alcohol is the second greatest cause of oral cancer, behind tobacco use (another habit that may arise or become more severe when someone is stressed).

Final Thoughts

Stress is a mostly natural, inevitable aspect of life, and so it’s important to learn how to cope and manage stress effectively to minimize the risk of developing detrimental issues such as those discussed here. Consult your dentist to learn about possible solutions or methods to alleviate the symptoms and prevent them from worsening any further. A healthy mouth is vital for a healthy life, so be sure to take care of it (and yourself!).

Emily Harrison’s passion for the medical field began when she started visiting the chiropractor regularly as a child and wanted to know more about how it helped her back. Since then, she has researched and written extensively about different areas of medicine such as chiropractic care, obstetrics, anesthesiology, and dentistry. When she is not writing or researching, she enjoys baking and crossword puzzles.