Living under constant stress can really do a number on your general health. The continuous release of adrenaline, cortisol and other stress hormones has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety, obesity, digestive disorders and countless other conditions that can significantly alter your quality of life. Because your oral health is a window into your overall health condition, your dentist will often spot the signs of stress before your physician does. The following are common oral indicators of a patient under extreme stress.
Canker sores are small ulcers that crop up inside the mouth when the immune system is compromised. Although viruses and bacterial infections can weaken the immune system, stress and fatigue can also lead to a mouth full of painful ulcers. Cold sores are another type of mouth sore that is linked to stress. Although the initial infection is caused by a virus, recurring outbreaks are often triggered by emotional upset. Both types of mouth sores disappear on their own in a little over a week, but stress reduction can help prevent or at least minimize the number of outbreaks.
Teeth Grinding and TMJ Dysfunction
Many people unconsciously grind and clench their teeth when under stress. Also called bruxism, this condition can lead to worn or chipped teeth if not treated. Teeth grinding can also create a strain or imbalance in the TMJs, which are the joints that connect the lower mandible to the skull. Bruxism and TMJ dysfunction are often responsible for the chronic jaw pains and headaches associated with stress. In addition to eliminating stressors in your life, you can help reduce the effects of these conditions by obtaining an oral appliance from your dentist that protects your teeth from damage and keeps your jaw in the ideal position while you sleep.
Gum Disease and Tooth Decay
When under stress, many people are too distracted to practice proper oral hygiene. While they may perform a cursory brushing of the teeth every day, they may skip the equally important steps of flossing and using a mouth rinse. They may additionally miss dental checkups and cleanings, which only contributes further to a decline in oral health. Add to that the unhealthy food and drink choices that people commonly make to help them cope with stress and you’ve got a recipe for a lowered immune system and very little natural protection against the oral bacteria responsible for gum disease. Many people also turn to sugary and acidic drinks to help them cope with their hectic lifestyles. Whether you’re drinking coffee and soda to maintain energy or several glasses of wine to wind down after a stressful day, your tooth enamel will suffer along with your overall health, resulting in rampant tooth decay.
Managing Stress for Good Oral Health
In addition to meticulous oral care, which includes dental checkups every six months and regular brushing and flossing, reducing stress in your life is a must if you want to maintain optimal oral health. If you are unable to eliminate or at least minimize stressors on your own, you should seek help from your physician or a qualified therapist. He or she can help you identify lifestyle changes that can be made and help you learn to cope with things you cannot change so that you can achieve a healthy balance in your life.