How Stress Can Affect Your Oral Health

How Stress Can Affect Your Oral Health

What oral problems can be attributed to stress?

We all know that stress is bad for us and we should try and avoid it but in today’s busy lifestyle it can be hard to avoid it completely, life can get very stressful as we try to juggle everything. We all know about the many stress related medical conditions such as heart disease and anxiety but did you know that stress can have an impact on your dental health too?

Here’s a few ways how stress can effect our oral health and few pointers to control it!

Are you grinding your teeth?

Grinding your teeth can also be a sign of stress. When we find ourselves in stressful situations, our bodies react by using the sympathetic nervous system as a form of protection. This system essentially triggers the ‘fight-or-flight’ response mechanism, providing you with a boost of energy so we can react quickly to the situation. Grinding teeth can actually be the body’s way of relieving stress through aggression by managing stress responses and hormone levels, rather like shouting can relieve feelings of tension.

The majority of teeth grinding occurs when a person is asleep, so you may not be aware that you are actually doing it. Persistent grinding can damage or break a tooth, which may result in unnecessary dental treatment. Teeth grinding or bruxism (it’s medical term) rarely occur without an underlying issue, such as stress or anxiety being present.

Your bad breath may be due to stress

We’ve all been in a situation where someone is talking to us and their breath doesn’t smell too fresh but we politely continue to listen hoping to make an excuse to leave as soon as possible. Well it could be down to stress!

But how does stress contribute to bad breath?

As mentioned earlier, when we’re under stress our body goes into ‘flight or fight’ mode. In cases of chronic stress, our body is kept in ‘fight or flight’ mode and conserves energy by turning off certain digestive functions such as the production of saliva. The mouth then produces a lower level of saliva – saliva is mandatory for moistening food for easier digestion, but the body deems it unnecessary in critical situations.

Saliva evaporates and the mouth becomes dry, leading to bad breath. This happens because the odorous gases created by bacteria in the mouth, which are generally suppressed by spit and swallowed away, are free to be released into the air. Additionally, bacteria are much more likely to stick to the surfaces of a dry mouth, which can further enhance the sour smell. Drinking plenty of water, chewing sugar-free gum and rinsing with a non-alcohol mouthwash can help to minimise the effects of stress related bad breath.

How can stress cause gum disease?

There are a few factors that link stress to bleeding gums and the onset of gum disease. Firstly, when the body is under stress it produces elevated amounts of the hormone cortisol, which acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. When cortisol is produced peripherally in the gums, it stimulates mast cells to produce more proteins, simultaneously increasing inflammation and the progression of gum disease. In addition, individuals with high stress levels tend to adopt bad oral hygiene and lifestyle habits, and this in turn can have a negative impact on their oral health.

If gum disease isn’t in advanced stages then good oral hygiene habits can reverse it so it’s essential to adopt a robust oral hygiene regimen coupled with regular trips to your dentist who can offer sound advice on correct brushing and flossing techniques.

Stress and mouth ulcers?

Just like people who suffer from stomach ulcers when under stress so mouth ulcers can also be a sign of being stressed too. Stress can suppress the immune system leaving you susceptible to infection and mouth ulcers are usually a result of this. Although harmless they can be very irritable especially when eating and drinking. They appear on the inside of the mouth and are white or yellow surrounded by a dark red area. So if you feel a mouth ulcer coming on it might be a sign that you’re under stress.

Tips to minimise stress

Stress now seems to part of modern life and that may be true, however with a few simple changes it may be possible to minimise the impact of stress to your oral health.

  • Look at your diet: Stress can often make us reach for some comfort food which are usually high in sugar or if you’re a smoker, stress can make you smoke more, bad lifestyle choices are often associated with stress and can impact our oral health, so be aware of what you’re eating!
  • Gym / Exercise: Exercise can be good for stress and it doesn’t have to be brutal to get the benefits, a brisk walk counts as exercise as does yoga which works on your mind and your body, yoga is good for controlling stress. And if you belong to a gym make sure you make use of your membership! Read about exercise & dental health.
  • Brush & floss twice a day: Yes it may sound obvious but a good dental routine will really help with your oral health and you’ve heard us say it before! Get in the habit of brushing twice a day, in the morning and evening. Flossing is a good idea too, before you brush your teeth, this can help remove food trapped in between the teeth that brushing can’t reach, plus trapped food may also be a cause of bad breath.
  • Drink more water: as mentioned above, the fight-or-flight reaction to stress can make you dehydrated and this leads to dry mouth and bad breath bacteria forming, which can both contribute to the onset of halitosis gum disease. If you keep your mouth and body well hydrated, you will minimise the chance of developing dry mouth that can lead to these problems.
  • Make an appointment to see us: If you think you might be suffering from stress and think it might be affecting your dental health especially if you are grinding your teeth, why not make an appointment to see us, giving you one less thing to stress about!