Stress can be overwhelming at times, especially if it is long-term. Most of us are aware of the emotional symptoms of stress (short temper, anxiety, exhaustion, etc.). Stress can also cause a lot of physical symptoms throughout our bodies. Headaches and high blood pressure are common in people who have high levels of stress. Over time, stress can diminish your immune system, reducing your ability to fight off infections or illnesses.
You may not be aware that stress can also affect your oral health. Indeed, stress can begin to alter your smile, not just metaphorically. If possible, reduce your stress load when you can before it begins to affect your body. Stress can create a domino effect of problems that may be difficult to get rid of later. Talk to your doctor, dentist, or mental health professional to find ways to minimize stress. However, it is essential to know how stress can affect your oral health in order to prepare yourself.
Grinding Your Teeth
One sign of stress happens when you grind your teeth or clench your jaw. This is called bruxism–a condition where you unknowingly grind your teeth. Some people may grind their teeth during a particularly stressful time. However, you may not be aware that you are grinding your teeth, as many patients do it in their sleep.
Unfortunately, teeth grinding can cause several problems. Patients who grind their teeth are more likely to chip or fracture their teeth, which will need professional intervention. Bruxism puts significant pressure on teeth that they are not capable of handling, leading to breaks. Additionally, grinding your teeth wears teeth down over time, creating issues with sensitivity or pain.
Diminished Immune Response
Your body cannot handle stress for long periods of time. Your body releases cortisol and adrenaline in order to function. These are the “fight or flight” hormones that allow your body to protect itself during dangerous situations. Over time, your body will begin to lose its ability to defend against illnesses. Being in “defense” mode is tiring.
This is how your immune system becomes compromised. Your immune system is your body’s way of protecting and healing from illnesses. Stress decreases your body’s immune response. For example, it will take longer to heal from an extraction. Likewise, if you get an infection, your body will have a more challenging time fighting off the infection.
In addition, if your body releases enough cortisol, it will cause the gums to produce more proteins, causing inflammation. Inflammation in the gums can increase your risk of developing gum disease.
Poor Oral Health
During stressful periods, it is difficult to maintain a healthy dental routine. As a result, self-care gets put on the back burner. Usually, when we are stressed, we reach for comfort foods that, unfortunately, have more starches and sugars. Additional starches and sugars increase the amount of plaque in your mouth, increasing the risk of developing cavities or tooth decay.