It’s undeniable that stress is bad. From sleepless nights spent worrying about your job, your loved ones and world events, it can be hard to escape daily anxieties that we all face. Plenty of research has been done on the effects of stress on systemic health, but we rarely talk about the impact worry can have on your dental and oral health — and it’s a doozy.
Stress and Your Gums
Healthy gums are vital to a healthy mouth — they hold our teeth in place and form a sort of soft armor around the deeper parts of dental tissue. They prevent potentially harmful oral bacteria from entering our bloodstream, as well.
When you’re stressed out, your body amps up the production of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is aptly referred to as the “stress hormone.” Responsible for putting our bodies into fight-or-flight mode when faced with a serious threat, cortisol also has smaller, less noticeable effects in our daily lives even when we’re not in a life-or-death situation.
At proper levels, cortisol can help regulate everything from immune function to digestion, but when things get out of whack because of stress, cortisol signals the body to go haywire.
Improper cortisol levels can lead to increased inflammation, which can in turn affect sensitive gums and contribute to a worsening of gum disease or its more severe cousin, periodontal disease.
Stress and Your Teeth
Grinding, gnashing and clenching your jaw may be par for the course when you’re stressed, but these actions are actually hurting your teeth — you may be grinding them down to actual nubs. For many people feeling a little stressed out, it’s enough to focus on consciously relaxing and untightening your jaw. But not everyone’s anxiety is easily solved.
Some people respond to stress by grinding their teeth at night, a condition called bruxism. Bruxism is sometimes treated with prescription medication, but the most effective nonpharmaceutical option is a mouthguard. Your dentist can help advise the proper course of treatment for your nocturnal teeth grinding and get you hooked up with a custom-fitted mouthguard to stop the damage.
Steps You Can Take to Tackle Stress
Stress management requires a holistic approach. And because no one knows what’s going on in your life better than you, the approach you take needs to be tailored to your unique needs and situation.
Talk to your doctor or other health care professional for ways to manage stress, worry and anxiety in your day-to-day life, as well as look for ways to stem its effects on your overall health. You may, for example, find therapy and medication useful. Or you may embark on a de-stressing routine of utilizing yoga or meditation. No one solution is right for everybody, and you may find a combination of strategies is the best for you.
When it comes to stress’s effect on your teeth, your dentist is your go-to for ways to mitigate damage. Depending on the problems stress is causing for your teeth, tongue and gums, different treatments may be recommended. Keeping your mouth in good condition by practicing good home care — brushing, flossing and rinsing as recommended — is an excellent baseline. Some people find the time spent brushing is an excellent time to take deep breaths and focus on calming themselves before facing the day ahead or winding down for bed — something that may quell anxiety and stress.
How We Can Help
At the office of Drs. Krieger and Hur, we recognize that booking a trip to the dentist can be stressful in and of itself. We take every care to make your visit as pain-free as possible. If you’re nervous, just let our staff know when you book your appointment and we’ll work with you to ease your fears as you come in for an exam to determine what to do about stress’s effects on your oral health.
Whether you need a custom mouthguard to stop damage from grinding your teeth at night or some extra care for gums that are going through it because of increased inflammation, we can help. The first step to seeing what we can do is booking an appointment for a regular exam to help us get an idea of what we’re working with — and give you a chance to tell us what’s going on.
You can reach out to our office and book an appointment by calling us at (201) 560-0606. You can also book your spot via email by clicking here — someone will get back to you about your appointment. Again, if visiting the dentist is a source of stress, say something! We won’t judge, and we’ll do all we can to accomodate your needs.