People may overlook the effect stress has on our oral health. However, our mouths can be just as affected by stress as the rest of our bodies are. Stress can have real consequences for our oral health as well as overall well-being.
Stress can make people neglect their oral-health routines. They may not brush or floss as often as they should or miss dental appointments. People under stress sometimes make poor lifestyle choices – smoking, consuming too much alcohol and eating more sugary foods – which can lead to serious issues including oral cancer, gum disease or tooth decay.
Stress is a contributing factor to other serious oral-health conditions, including:
Bruxism, or teeth grinding. People under stress may clench or grind their teeth, especially during sleep. Over a long period of time, bruxism can wear down tooth surfaces. Teeth can also become painful or loose from severe grinding or prone to fractures.
Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) affects the jaws, joints and groups of muscles that let us chew, swallow, speak and yawn. Symptoms include tender or sore jaw muscles, headaches and problems opening or closing your mouth. Bruxism is a major cause of TMD – clenching your jaw muscles can cause them to ache.
Periodontal (gum) disease. Research has shown that stress affects our immune systems, increasing our susceptibility to infections, including the bacteria that cause gum disease.
Xerostomia, or dry mouth, can also be caused by medications to treat stress. Saliva is vital to keep your mouth moist, wash away food and neutralize the acids that are produced by plaque. Left untreated, dry mouth can damage your teeth.
It may be impossible to eliminate all stress from your life, but you can take simple steps to reduce its impact on your health.
• Find relaxation techniques or exercises to help you cope with stress.
• Brush at least twice a day and floss daily.
• Schedule and keep regular appointments with your dentist.
• Talk to your dentist about getting a custom-fitted nightguard to protect your teeth while you sleep.
• Eat a balanced diet, with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
• Stay active. If you don’t have time to exercise, a 30-minute walk every day is a good start.
• Get plenty of sleep.
It’s important to know that all types of tobacco including cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco are harmful for your oral health. In addition to containing nicotine – which is addictive – they have been all been known to cause:
• gum disease
• tooth loss
• oral cancer (cancer of the lip, tongue)
• cancer of the esophagus and voice box
• pancreatic, esophagal, colon and bladder cancer
Almost 75% of gum disease in adults is caused by smoking. Also, your gums may recede as a result of smoking. This may lead to tooth decay and an increased sensitivity to hot and cold food and drinks.
If you are considering an oral piercing, it’s important to know the potential side-effects. Here are some of the complications that may occur:
• Your mouth contains a lot of bacteria. Oral piercing may lead to infection.
• Your piercing may result in pain, swelling or gum tissue damage.
• Your piercing may cause chipped or cracked teeth.
• A pierced blood vessel may cause uncontrollable bleeding.
• In some cases, your swollen tongue can actually block your airway and inhibit your breathing.
It’s important to be aware of how prescriptions and over-the counter-drugs may affect your oral health. For example:
• Asthma inhalers that are high in acid can dissolve tooth enamel when used frequently.
• Cough syrups that have a high sugar content may result in tooth decay.
• Antihistamines may cause dry mouth.
• Aspirins, blood thinners and some herbal remedies may affect the ability of the blood to clot normally.
The following medications may cause damage to your gums:
• oral contraceptives
• immunosuppressive drugs
• chemotherapy drugs
Talk to your dentist about how the prescription drugs you are taking might affect your oral health.
Article courtesy of the Ontario Dental Association. For more information visit www.oda.on.ca.