For many people, the holiday season promises higher levels of stress — shopping, decorating, baking, cleaning, entertaining…the list goes on. And this doesn’t even cover day-to-day stresses we may encounter at work and/or at home.
Stress has a lot of negative effects on the body, from high blood pressure and cholesterol to heart disease. It’s also tough on the teeth.
The Role of Stress on the Body
To understand the role of stress on teeth, let’s start with the role of stress on the body. Stress is defined as “A state of mental or emotional strain resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.”
This strain comes about when the brain perceives a threat. As the brain processes the threat, it decides one of three reactions: fight, flee or freeze.
Once that decision is made, the pituitary gland releases adrenaline and cortisol into the system. Depending on the circumstances, the hormones might get released even if the body isn’t experiencing a real threat. Or the hormone might release continually.
When this happens, it can have negative effects on the body, especially on teeth.
Five Ways Stress Is Bad for Oral Health
1. Stress increases risk for gum disease. Stress hurts the body’s ability to deal with infections, including gum disease.
2. Stress makes us more susceptible to dental cavities. When we have more cortisol in our systems, our bodies produce acid. Our overall pH-balance influences our health. The scale ranges from 1 to 14, with 1 being the most acidic and 14 being the most alkaline. Ideally, we want a concentration between 7.35 and 7.45. Too much stress, however, leans us toward acidic. To compensate, the body draws minerals out of bones and teeth.
Not only does stress automatically make our bodies more acidic, we tend to cope by increasing our use of products like caffeine, sugar and alcohol, which can affect our mood and sleep. Plus, sugar and alcohol can also contribute to tooth decay, and several caffeinated products can stain teeth.
3. Stress can lead to bruxism. Higher levels of stress may cause you to clench or grind your teeth at night. This clenching or grinding is called bruxism. Symptoms could include waking up with a headache on a regular basis and experiencing tooth sensitivity, due to enamel rubbing off. If you are suffering from bruxism, you might want to wear a mouth guard when you go to sleep.
4. Stress can cause temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJD). The temporomandibular joint joins the jaw to the skull. TMJD also represents the muscles used to move the jaw. If you feel jaw joint pain or you catch your jaw popping or clicking, TMJD may be the cause. Depending on how severe it is, you might need to consult your dentist to relax your jaw muscles. If it’s not too severe, watch more funny movies, as laughter can relax muscles.
5. Stress can cause canker sores. These small lesions form on the soft tissues inside your mouth. They are self-treatable, non-contagious and usually go away after two weeks.
Six Easy Steps to Alleviate Stress
Nobody would say stress is good, but most people probably don’t realize just how devastating it can be. To alleviate stress, practice these six simple techniques.
1. Sleep. Your body needs at least seven to nine hours of sleep a night. If you’re under a lot of stress, you may want to consider being more mindful of your bedtime. When the sun sets, put all technology away (computer, smartphone, TV) and focus on rest.
2. Eat nutritiously. Remember what we said earlier about caffeine, sugar and alcohol — how it can make the body more acidic? A nutritious diet can alkalize your body and give you more energy.
3. Exercise. Thirty minutes of consistent exercise a day can reduce blood pressure, improve heart health and put you in a better mood.
4. Meditate. “If you are depressed, you live in the past,” said Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher. “If you are anxious, you live in the future. If you are happy, you live in the present.” Most stress, it appears, comes from living too much in the past or future. By meditating, you can begin to train your mind to focus on the present.
5. Brush twice a day and floss daily. We’ve written before “You can’t spell overall without oral.” As in, oral health directly affects overall wellness. If stress is threatening your wellness, you can respond by maintaining a consistent brushing and flossing routine.
6. Visit your dentist every six months. Don’t go through stress alone. By visiting your dentist, you’re more likely to catch some of these negative effects before they become bigger problems.
While we’d all prefer to live in a stress-free world, it’s not always possible. By practicing these techniques, you can hopefully alleviate stress and maintain your beautiful smile.