Stress can impact almost every facet of your health and well-being, and your dental health is not exempt. When you’re stressed, you might be surprised by the number of ways it can negatively affect your mouth.
How Stress Affects Your Body
We all know the telltale signs of stress. You might notice your heart beating faster than normal due to the increase in the stress hormone cortisol, and you might feel more tired and more worn out than usual. Or you might notice your skin breaking out or your hair falling out. These are all typical body responses to stress, but when stress is ongoing, it can affect your entire body more than you might realize. Chronic stress can leave a significant and lasting impact on your body.
Physical symptoms of stress can include:
- Increased heart and blood pressure
- Faster, more shallow breathing and increased asthma
- Muscles aches and pains, or flare-ups in joint conditions
- Flare-ups in autoimmune conditions or chronic diseases
- Stomachaches, digestive issues, or reflux
- Tightness and clenching in your shoulders, jaw, and face
- Breakouts, hives, skin rashes, or skin condition flare-ups
- Increased sweating and itchy skin
- Hair loss
In addition to noticeable physical symptoms, stress impacts your body in other ways.
Other symptoms of stress can include:
- A weakened immune system
- Anxiety and depression
- Reduced ability for enjoyment
- Lack of motivation for healthy choices
With all the ways stress can take its toll on your body, it should come as no surprise that stress can also have a negative effect on your dental health.
The Bodily Effects of Stress Also Affect Dental Health
Because of the way stress can impact every part of your well-being, it also tends to negatively affect your dental health. Some of the symptoms of stress, including a weakened immune system, anxiety and depression, and lack of motivation have a direct effect on your dental health.
When your stress weakens your immune system, it can cause:
- Canker sores: These can show up inside your cheeks or lips, or along the gums. While they can be triggered by biting your cheek or poking your gums, they are exacerbated by stress.
- Imbalances of the mouth’s microbiome: Studies indicate that cortisol directly causes changes in the gene expression profiles of the oral microbiome which cause good microbes to change to bad microbes.
- Increased gum disease: Oral infections occur more easily when your immune system is compromised.
Additionally, anxiety and depression resulting from stress can cause:
- Dry mouth and burning mouth syndrome: This can result in an excess of bacteria, which increases oral infections, gum disease, and tooth decay.
- Jaw clenching: Tensing the muscles in your face and clenching your jaw can result in jaw soreness, headaches, TMJ, and even chipped or broken teeth.
- Nail-biting: Biting your nails introduces germs and bacteria from your hands to your mouth, making infections more likely. It can also damage your teeth and gums and move your teeth out of alignment.
- Tooth grinding: Grinding your teeth at night can cause damage to your enamel, and cracked, chipped, broken, or loose teeth. You may also experience headaches, a sore jaw, and increased sensitivity in your teeth.
- Poor oral hygiene: You may lack the motivation to take proper care of yourself or feel too busy to keep up with brushing twice daily, flossing daily, and eating a healthy diet. The result could be poor oral health.
Combating Stress and Stress Habits That Impact Your Dental Health
If you’re feeling stressed, it’s helpful to start with reducing that stress however possible. Decrease your mental load, practice meditation, get more exercise, and get enough rest. Seeing a counselor or other mental health professional can also help you work through stress so you can begin to treat the symptoms. Until you’ve figured out the source of your stress, it’s unlikely to just go away. In the meantime, your stress symptoms, including dental issues, may get worse.
When stress is impacting your health, including your oral health, it’s essential to address it as soon as possible. If you notice that your stress is affecting your oral health, see your dentist right away. They can give you a full exam to identify any dental problems you may already be experiencing, and help you prevent further damage.
Depending on the effect your stress is having on your dental health, your dentist may recommend:
- A night guard: Night guards help protect your teeth and jaw if you are grinding your teeth or clenching at night.
- Massage therapy or physical therapy: Massage can help relieve headaches or jaw pain from clenching or grinding. Physical therapy can help you learn to hold your shoulders, head, and jaw in a way that doesn’t cause pain.
- Medication: Depending on the issues you’re experiencing, you may need pain medication, medication to ease inflammation in your jaw, or antibiotics if you have developed an infection.
- Dental work or orthodontic correction: If you’ve damaged your teeth by grinding, clenching, or biting your nails, you may need dental work to fix your teeth. Depending on the severity of the damage, your dentist may also recommend seeing an orthodontist for correction with your bite.
Don’t Hesitate to Seek Dental Care
The past year has been particularly difficult with the COVID-19 pandemic. Most people have experienced a significant increase in stress, and the dental community is seeing the results in their patients’ teeth.
In fact, more than 70% of dentists participating in a monthly survey conducted by the Health Policy Institute in February 2021 saw an increase in patients experiencing teeth clenching and grinding. In the survey, dentists observed an increase of:
- 63% for chipped teeth
- 63% for cracked teeth
- 62% for TMJ symptoms
The good news is that these patients came to their dentists for help.
Stress can wreak havoc on your oral health without ongoing oral hygiene at home and consistent dental care. However, even if you take great care of your teeth and see your dentist regularly, stress can impact your mouth. If your stress is impacting your dental health, don’t hesitate to see your dentist. They may be able to stop damage before it becomes severe and provide treatment options that help protect your mouth, even in times of stress.
From there, work on finding ways to relieve your stress to help preserve your overall health. For more information about the mouth-body health connection, follow dental expert Dr. Kami Hoss and reserve his upcoming book, If Your Mouth Could Talk.