We all encounter stress in our lives, and some more than others. You're probably aware of what stress does to our bodies -- it can cause anxiety disorders and panic attacks, and a lack of sleep can lead to grogginess and irritability.
But stress and oral health is an entirely new ballgame for most people. Unfortunately, our mouths have just as much of a chance of being affected by stressful situations as our bodies and minds do. Researchers have found a significant link between stress and oral health, helping us better understand what part anxiety and depression take in the development of dental problems. We now know that stress is a contributing factor to the following conditions:
Canker Sores -- No one quite knows what exactly causes canker sores, but they are sometimes brought on by stress. Although harmless, these small sores can be painful.
Dry Mouth -- When the mouth doesn't produce enough saliva, it can experience chronic dryness. Not only does dry mouth result from conditions caused by stress, but it is also a common side effect of drugs used to treat depression.
Burning Mouth Syndrome -- Psychological problems are just one of the many factors known to cause burning mouth, which is identified by a burning sensation on the tongue, lips, gums or palate.
Lichen Planus -- Lichen planus of the mouth is characterized by white lines, sores and ulcers in the oral cavity. Some experts believe lichen planus is a reaction to viral infections caused by stress.
TMJ/TMD -- Stress contributes to temporomandibular joint disorders in many fashions. Trauma and tooth grinding are common causes of TMD, while emotional factors such as anxiety and depression can also trigger symptoms of TMJ.
Gum Disease -- Studies have shown that long-term stress affects our immune systems, increasing our susceptibility to infections such as periodontal disease.
Other Risk Factors
As you can see, stress and oral health often go hand-in-hand, but stress also takes indirect paths to affect your dental health. Patients who are under stress tend to neglect their oral hygiene routines -- when you have so much going on, it's hard to remember to brush and floss correctly. Poor diet is also a result of stress -- sugary and carbohydrate-laden foods that promote tooth decay might be consumed on a more frequent basis when we are busy or depressed.
There is yet another significant correlation between stress and oral health -- stress not only causes dental conditions, but painful dental problems can also increase our levels of stress and anxiety. Furthermore, our ability to tolerate pain is compromised as our bodies struggle to adapt to stressful situations. As a result, tooth pain can become more extreme during times of stress.
Time to De-Stress!
If you're feeling stressed, don't forget about your dental health. Take the time to focus on your oral hygiene regimen, and don't use smoking or alcohol to relieve stress. These habits are highly addictive, and they have damaging effects on your oral cavity. Instead, take proper measures to reduce stress in your life, such as eating well, exercising and getting plenty of sleep. If you suffer from extreme anxiety or depression, seek professional help.
If you're worried that stress is affecting your teeth or gums, see a dentist -- he or she can treat dental problems caused by anxiety and offer suggestions for better dental care. If you don't have a dentist, we can help you find one!