April is Stress Awareness Month, so take a moment to stop worrying and relax. You may not realize this, but stress can harm your teeth and gums.
How? When you’re anxious or depressed your body produces more of the hormone cortisol, which can lead to periodontal disease. Chronic stress also can impair your immune system, contributing to infection throughout your body, including your mouth.
A study in the February 2009 Journal of Periodontology (JOP) confirmed that stress may interfere with oral hygiene. In the study, 56% of participants said that stress led them to neglect regular brushing and flossing. Bad habits, such as smoking and drinking alcohol, may also lead people to avoid their nightly oral health routine.
The following dental conditions also have been linked to stress, depression or anxiety:
- Burning mouth syndrome—a painful condition that sufferers describe as a scalding feeling in the tongue, lips, and roof of the mouth.
- Canker sores—small, painful ulcers inside the mouth. Doctors aren’t sure what causes canker sores, but they are thought to appear more often when the individual is stressed or very tired.
- Cold sores—fluid-filled blisters caused by the herpes virus. If you’re infected, you’ll often experience an outbreak in response to being upset.
- People who grind their teeth (a problem called bruxism) tend to do it more when under stress. Grinding can wear and chip teeth and put pressure on jaw muscles and joints.
Give your mouth a break from stress with these strategies to relieve the pressure:
- Change your outlook. Some things, like the weather, are out of your hands. Try to see other life events as positive challenges rather than threats.
- Eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet and get enough sleep and exercise.
- Practice relaxation techniques like meditation, stretching, deep breathing and yoga.
Get more tips on how to manage your stress.