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The Link Between Stress and Oral Health

Woman looking stressed chewing fingernails.

Feeling a little stressed lately? You're certainly not alone. In fact, a recent survey from the American Psychiatric Association found that more than three-quarters of respondents indicated that their stress levels have gone up in the past year.

Stress is a constant companion for many of us in today's fast-paced world. But did you know stress can impact more than just your mental well-being? It can have a physical impact as well, including one on your oral health.

Understanding Stress

Simply put, stress is the body's natural response to demanding situations. It's a survival mechanism that prepares your body to "fight or flight." While this response can be beneficial in the short term, long-term chronic stress can negatively affect almost every system in your body, including your mouth, teeth, and gums.

How Stress Impacts Your Oral Health

The connection between stress and oral health is a two-way street. Not only does stress have a direct effect on your oral health, but problems in your mouth can also contribute to stress, creating a vicious cycle that can be hard to break. 

The Direct Impact

High levels of stress have been shown to have some potential direct impacts on the health of your teeth and gums. As a result, you will want to manage these conditions directly in addition to making attempts to alleviate underlying stress that may be a contributing factor.

Teeth Grinding and Jaw Issues

Teeth grinding (also known as bruxism) is often associated with stress and anxiety. People who grind their teeth might not even realize they're doing it, especially if it happens while they're sleeping.

Similarly, stress can lead to other unhealthy habits such as chewing on non-food items like fingernails and pens. Over time, these habits can lead to tooth damage, jaw disorders, and headaches. 

Gum Disease

Research indicates that there's a connection between stress and gum disease (periodontitis). Chronic stress affects your immune system, making it harder for your body to fight off the bacteria that cause gum disease. 

Mouth Sores

Canker sores (small ulcers in the mouth) and cold sores (caused by the extremely common herpes simplex virus) often appear during periods of stress. 

Indirect Consequences of Stress on Oral Health

Chronic stress can also indirectly affect your oral health by influencing your behaviors and choices.

Poor Oral Hygiene Habits

Under stress, you may neglect good oral hygiene practices, like brushing twice a day and flossing. These habits, essential to keeping your mouth healthy, can take a backseat when stress is high.

Unhealthy Eating

Stress often leads to comfort eating, which typically means more sugary, acidic, and unhealthy foods. These types of foods can contribute to tooth decay.

Tobacco and Alcohol Use

Many people turn to smoking or drinking alcohol as coping mechanisms for stress. Both of these habits can lead to a host of oral health problems, from gum disease to oral cancer.

Stress Management and Oral Health

Now that you understand the impact stress can have on your oral health, what can you do about it? Here are some strategies to consider:

Maintain Good Oral Hygiene

No matter how stressed you are, try not to neglect your oral health routine. Brush twice a day, floss daily, and keep up with your dental check-ups. Consider oral hygiene a non-negotiable part of your self-care routine.

Manage Your Stress

Explore stress management techniques, like meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga. Physical activity can also reduce stress levels and boost your mood.

Seek Professional Help

If you're struggling with stress and it's affecting your oral health, don't hesitate to reach out to professionals. Talk to your dentist about what you're experiencing, and consider seeing a mental health professional to help manage your stress.

Empower Yourself

We hope you have a better understanding of the intricate link between stress and oral health. If you suspect that stress may be impacting your oral health, now is the time to reach out to our office. We can help you develop a comprehensive strategy to not only protect your oral health but also manage your stress.


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