While at the dentist, I was recently told mental stress could affect my smile. While some immediate cause and effect relationships jumped into my mind, I wanted to learn more because I understand how important oral health can be to our overall well-being. I wanted to share what I found out with you.
While scientists are still studying the mechanisms involved, I think it is generally understood that stress can be viewed as the root cause for many health issues. Ranging from heart disease and stroke to anxiety, there is even some evidence that shows stress increases the chance of infection. What is not often discussed, is the negative effect stress has on our oral cavity such as the health of our gums, teeth and bones of the mouth.
The most obvious way stress can affect our smile, is bruxism. Bruxism is described as teeth grinding. Long-term teeth grinding and clinching can lead to gum erosion and the warring away of the enamel. Exposing the underlying dentin leads to an increase in the likelihood of tooth decay and tooth sensitivity. Dentin exposure may appear in your smile as grey, black, or pale yellow on the teeth. Dentists may prescribe a night guard for this issue.
In addition to bruxism, it seems chronic stress leads to a deterioration of good oral hygiene habits such as flossing and brushing. Additionally, people under chronic stress are more prone to eating products that are more likely to damage the enamel in the teeth such as foods containing high levels of sugar.
Another condition associate with poor oral health is osteoporosis. Stress causes us to release cortisol, a stress hormone that liberates calcium from our bones leaving our bones less dense. Therefore, long-term stress can result in osteoporosis, which not only leaves us susceptible to fractures and disability (which is not good in itself,) it can also lead to bone loss in our oral cavity. Bone loss in the mouth can leave us more prone to issues with the gum health and tooth loss. Consider the following from the National Institute of Arthritis Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease.
‘The portion of the jawbone that supports our teeth is known as the alveolar process. Several studies have found a link between the loss of alveolar bone and an increase in loose teeth (tooth mobility) and tooth loss. Women with osteoporosis are three times more likely to experience tooth loss than those who do not have the disease.’(2)
While it is universally understood that lifestyle choices such as eating a nutrient rich diet, not smoking, and limiting alcohol consumption is a good idea for our overall health. It is choices like these that can simultaneously help maintain our bone health and consequently our oral health. Unfortunately it appears that stress is not usually included when discussing oral hygiene habits such as brushing and flossing. I think addressing stress is paramount to our oral health as well as our overall well-being.
The ways to bring stress under control may surprise you. To find out how to manage stress, please see my must read post, Can stress decrease you lifespan?. If you just want to look at ways to deal with stress, please skip to the information towards the end, as the post is fairly lengthy.
This article is for educational purposes only. Please contact your health care provider if you have any questions regarding your health.
As always, I invite you to continue to educate yourself on topics such as these as your health affects everything you do and everyone you know. I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comments.
Yours in Health,
Sean Ripp, D.C.