Stress is a primary factor in your overall health. You are probably already aware of this fact. Stress can cause physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle aches, chest pains, high blood pressure, difficulty breathing, panic attacks, decreased immunity, and the list goes on. But, did you know that stress is especially significant in your oral health? 

At Sninski & Schmitt Family Dentistry, we are experienced in diagnosing stress-related oral concerns. In this article, we discuss six ways stress can affect your teeth and what can be done to help.

How Stress Can Affect Your Oral Health

Stress is a reaction to extreme demands on you physically, emotionally, or psychologically.  Stress can be good or bad. Good stress can challenge you to go beyond what you think you are capable of and, in so doing, help you grow and progress in your skills. Stress can also be bad when it continues for a long time and is more than your body can handle. Too much stress for too long can result in negative short- and long-term effects on your health, including your oral health.

There have been a few studies that have examined the relationship between stress and oral health. One such study written and published in the National Institutes of Health Library of Medicine found that there is a relationship between stress and poor oral health. 

1. Mouth and Gum Canker Sores

Mouth ulcers are commonly referred to as canker sores or aphthous ulcers. These sores are usually small with white or grayish centers surrounded by red borders and cause pain when chewing or talking. Emotional stress is one of the most common underlying causes of mouth ulcers. Canker sores are not contagious. Many people are prone to canker sores and find that stress is an initiator. Even when stress and anxiety levels are similar to those of normal and not extreme, psychological stress can be a major triggering element in the onset of recurring mouth ulcers. 

Minor ulcers can appear inside the cheeks, on the lips, tongue, and gums, and even on the roof of the mouth. You can get four to six at any one time. Large ulcers are more severe and may take longer to heal. Any ulcer that lasts longer than three weeks should be checked by your dentist.

Cold sores, also called fever blisters, are different in that they are usually around the outside of the mouth, on or near the lips, and can be spread easily to others. 

To help prevent mouth ulcers, you can:

  • Keep your mouth as clean and healthy as possible
  • Use high-quality toothbrushes
  • Eat a good diet that is rich in vitamins A, C, and includes fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Visit your dentist regularly

2. Teeth Grinding

One of the primary symptoms when coping with stress is teeth grinding (bruxism), especially during sleep. You can unconsciously clench your teeth or grind your jaw back and forth when you are stressed either during the day or at night. While you are asleep and dreaming, your body has more muscle activity and, therefore, causes teeth grinding.

Chronic and involuntary teeth grinding can result in a variety of oral health problems such as:

  • Causing you to crack or fracture your teeth, resulting in the need for crowns or dental implants 
  • Wearing down the enamel on your teeth, leading to periodontal disease or lost teeth
  • Causing jaw pain by straining the muscles in the face
  • Causing canker sores

The most common solution and the first line of defense to stop grinding your teeth during sleep is a night guard. Worn while you are asleep, the night guard protects your teeth. For more information, see our article “Tips to Stop Grinding Your Teeth (and When to See a Dentist).”

Other treatment options that may reduce the frequency or harm caused by teeth grinding include:

  • Yoga
  • Massage
  • Mouth stretching exercises
  • Counseling
  • Treatment for acid reflux, which can be a factor in developing bruxism
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Botox injections
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • A diet that is limited to soft foods
  • Changing to a firmer pillow

3. Gum Disease

Stress can increase the risk of developing periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, by negatively affecting the body’s ability to fight infection and leading to behavioral changes that harm gum health.

For example:

  • Poor oral hygiene – Stress can make it difficult to remember to brush your teeth properly
  • Smoking – Smoking can increase as a person is coping with stress
  • Diet – Emotional responses from stress can modify dietary intake and affect periodontal conditions

Preventing gum disease entails being vigilant in good oral care:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day, in the morning and before bed, with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss regularly to remove plaque from between your teeth.
  • Get regular checkups and professional cleanings from your dentist.
  • If you smoke, quit the habit.
  • Be sure to include fruits and vegetables in your diet.

4. Dry Mouth

A dry mouth can be a side effect of the anxiety that stress produces by affecting the flow of saliva. A low level of saliva production in your glands is a common source of dry mouth.

Some symptoms of dry mouth include:

  • Difficulty speaking, swallowing, or eating
  • A changed taste of foods and drinks
  • Difficulty adhering dentures to gums
  • A hoarse voice
  • Sore or dry throat
  • Bad breath

Here are a few actions you can to prevent or decrease dry mouth:

  • Breathe through your nose
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Use a humidifier at night
  • Quit smoking
  • Chew sugarless gum
  • Decrease caffeine and alcohol
  • Suck on ice cubes

5. Tooth Decay

Because stress can cause your immune system to be compromised, you are more likely to contract infections and develop dental problems. Studies have shown that people who are under a great deal of stress have a decreased ability to fight off bacteria and viruses, leading to tooth decay and other oral health issues. While coping with extreme stress, your body flushes out protective minerals and increases the acidic, bacteria-laden, cavity-causing environment in your mouth. Additionally, when you are under a lot of stress you may neglect your oral hygiene routine, allowing the bacteria in your mouth to multiply and cause tooth decay.

6. Unhealthy Behaviors

As you are dealing with stress, you may develop unhealthy behaviors that cause your oral health to be compromised. Stress can encourage addictive behaviors, bad habits, and other poor lifestyle choices because of critical brain functions being affected such as self-control, decision-making, and normal healthy desire.

Here are some examples of unhealthy behaviors that can result from stress:

  • Comfort eating and poor diet choices
  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise
  • Poor oral hygiene

Schedule a Dental Checkup with Sninski and Schmitt Family Dentistry

If you are dealing with a lot of stress and experiencing any of the symptoms discussed in this article, call our professional team at Sninski and Schmitt Family Dentistry today. We can properly diagnose your oral health and help you to prevent or correct the issues. Call our Holly Springs dentist office at 919-600-6262 and our Cary, NC dentist office at 919-467-2203. Or, use our online form below to schedule an appointment.

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