The Impact of Stress on Oral Health: Symptoms and Solutions

Many people have come to understand the impact of poor oral hygiene on the rest of the body. Tartar and plaque buildup on the teeth and the subsequent bacteria caused by that buildup can lead to systemic disorders like heart disease, diabetes, pneumonia, and low birth weight. And in reverse, diseases of the body can also affect the teeth and gums of those suffering from the diseases. 

In recent years, another factor has been found to affect oral health: chronic stress. Researchers have determined that stress can either cause or exacerbate several oral health problems. In fact, it is a symbiotic relationship because if one side of the equation is improved, the other side improves, too. 

We will explore this dynamic in this article: What the impact of stress is on your body, specifically the immune system. We will also discuss the impact of stress on oral health and your body and how to fight stress daily. 

Stress and Your Body

The human body has amazing techniques for dealing with stress. When you face normal stress, your body reacts physically, emotionally, and mentally with a “fight-or-flight” response. Adrenaline and stress hormones, specifically cortisol, are immediately released into the body so action can be taken quickly. This process serves the human body well. Until the stress becomes chronic.Research has shown chronic stress damages the immune system, with cortisol being the culprit. This extended release of cortisol into the body has numerous consequences, including inflammation and infection of the gums and the bone that supports the teeth. A damaged immune system also carries the risk of mouth infections like cold sores, canker sores, and gum disease. The normal bacteria in the mouth flourishes, resulting in tooth decay and possible systemic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.

Oral Health Impacts From Stress

The emotional and physical symptoms of stress like anxiety, headaches, and stomach issues are well-known, but what about how stress impacts oral health? 

It’s important to understand how damaging chronic stress is to your oral health as well as your physical health. Here are some of the results of chronic stress on your oral health:

  • Disorders of the jaw joint and chewing muscles. This is known as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). TMD is a painful disorder that causes problems with chewing, talking, or anything relying on the opening and closing of the mouth.
  • Oral sores and infections, appearing as white or red spots, canker sores, or ulcers.
  • Teeth grinding (bruxism) or jaw clenching. This can happen at any time, both at night and during the day. Continued grinding wears down teeth, damages tooth enamel, and causes headaches.
  • Poor oral hygiene, caused by inattention to brushing and flossing. Stress stands in the way of maintaining normal routines of all kinds.
  • Dry mouth. Saliva production is decreased by stress, affecting your mouth’s ability to neutralize acids, wash away bits of food, and control the growth of bacteria. Dry mouth results in tooth decay, bad breath, and oral infections.

Stress damages the body in multiple ways and these effects on the mouth and teeth often go unnoticed until the damage is done. It’s critical to know what causes stress by identifying its early warning signs. Then, it’s necessary to find practical ways to reduce stress in your life.

Reducing the Symptoms of Stress

There are two primary ways to lessen the effects of stress on your body: Finding relief by alleviating existing symptoms and identifying the causes of stress in your life to prevent it from taking over. 

Finding Relief Now

Here are some actions you can take to alleviate the pain and discomfort of existing stress and reduce its effect on your dental health:

  • Talk to your dentist. Don’t assume they know you are suffering.
  • Get a custom-fitted mouthguard from your dentist to wear at night to prevent teeth grinding and clenching.
  • Don’t eat hard or crunchy foods when experiencing pain in the face or jaw.
  • Don’t smoke and avoid alcohol.
  • Seek massage (or do self-massage) of your face, jaw, and neck when necessary.
  • Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain relievers that work for you.
  • Ask your dentist or doctor for stronger prescription medication if needed. Anti-inflammatories or antiviral drugs can help and they will prevent cold sores.
  • Don’t spend extended time in the sun. If you must be out in the sun, use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more. This will also reduce cold sores.
  • Exercise. According to Mayo Clinic, you ideally want to get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week to help reduce stress.

Help Prevent Stress Before It Takes Over

Rather than simply deal with the effects of stress on your body, it is also necessary to keep your mind and body healthy all the time. Here are some tips to avoid stress.

Eat A Healthy Diet 

Daily portions of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains keep your body working at its peak efficiency. A healthy diet will allow you to control your moods, too. Skipping meals puts your body at a deficit for nutrients, leading to negative consequences including stress.

Get Help to Control Unhealthy Habits

Those who suffer from chronic stress sometimes engage in avoidance behaviors to reduce stress. This doesn’t work in the long term. Taking harmful drugs or drinking alcohol to excess, for example, merely adds more severe problems to the situation. Talk to a therapist or other mental health professional to find better ways to cope. 

Practice Relaxation Techniques

Techniques like deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness, and practicing gratitude provide the mind and body with healthy outlets before the stress takes over. These activities essentially activate the body’s ability to heal itself through relaxation. They boost your energy and mood, resulting in improved mental and physical (including oral) health.

Move Your Body

Positive, focused movement cannot be overemphasized in the care of the body and mind. Much like meditation and deep breathing give your body another outlet for stress, so does exercise. You are never too old to begin and the exercise does not have to be overly energetic. Walking every day for 30 minutes has a positive effect on nearly everyone. Talk to your doctor before you begin, but get moving!

Don’t Isolate Yourself

Humans are social beings and need others around them. This can be as little as having coffee with a friend once a week or shopping and talking about work, school, or family. Don’t rely only on texting or emailing. Isolation only makes your problems seem bigger than they are. Face-to-face conversation with someone else allows you to see you are not alone.

Stick With Healthy Routines

Maintain a good oral hygiene routine that includes proper brushing and flossing. It may take extra effort to stick with your daily oral hygiene program, but it will be worth it in the long run. When stressed, people often neglect their routines, making the situation worse and resulting in a downward spiral of neglect and its consequences. This applies to all healthy routines, including eating properly, exercising, and taking care of your teeth.

By taking these measures, decreasing the level of stress leads to better overall health, including dental health.

Let Us Help You Control and Deal With the Impact of Stress on Oral Health 

Stress is a natural response in the human body to a threat or perceived threat and is a form of protection from danger. When stress becomes chronic, it suppresses the immune system and has negative effects on both physical and dental health. The tips mentioned in this article are effective at helping to lower unnecessary stress in the body. Things like meditation, exercise, and dental devices like a nighttime mouthguard can all help safeguard your mental and dental health.

Consider us here at TLC Dental Center as your partners in dealing with the effects of chronic stress on your oral health. We provide the highest quality dentistry, delivered with care and compassion, to children, teens, adults, and seniors. Contact us today with any questions you may have on preventing your chronic stress (or that of someone you love) from negatively impacting oral health.