Chronic stress can affect the body in many ways. It can cause muscle tension and pain, headaches, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue, and depression, among many other physical and mental health problems .
But what about the impacts of stress on your dental health? Just as with the body and mental health, stress can negatively affect your oral health and potentially impact your teeth and gums—here’s how.
Stress Can Increase Your Risk for Teeth Grinding
Research shows that stress increases the risk of bruxism, or teeth grinding, especially emotional stress such as anxiety and depression .
Teeth grinding also increases the likelihood of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, which affect the jaw and can result in chronic muscle tension, pain, and even trouble chewing.
For many people, part of treating bruxism includes stress management and relaxation techniques to alleviate teeth grinding as the result of stress, which ultimately can protect your teeth, gums, and even mental health.
Impaired Immune System Function
While acute stress—the type of stress that is short-term and designed to increase our ability to cope with danger or a threat—may enhance the immune system in some ways, chronic, prolonged stress has the opposite effect .
Chronic stress can result in overactivation of the immune system via allergies or autoimmune disorders as well as low immunity, which can result in infections, including oral infections such as periodontal (gum) disease and oral thrush. Impaired immune system function may even play a role in the development of canker sores.
Although stress can help keep us safe in threatening situations, it has the potential to damage our health when it continues for long periods of time.
Chronic Stress May Lead to Dry Mouth
Stress, anxiety, and depression have also been shown to reduce saliva flow rate, which can lead to dry mouth . Chronic dry mouth, regardless of the cause, can increase the risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and oral infections.
Combined with the fact that stress can also impair immune system function and impact the risk of teeth grinding, dry mouth has the potential to exacerbate damage to the oral cavity.
For example, if teeth grinding results in gum inflammation or fractured teeth, dry mouth and impaired immune system function may increase the likelihood of a tooth infection or gum disease from these problems.
Practice Stress Management for Better Oral Health
Stress management isn’t always easy, but by developing healthier habits and reducing stress in your life, you may just protect your smile and your body from the damaging effects of chronic stress. Have you noticed stress is impacting your dental health? If so, your dentist can help you take the best care of your smile to reduce the harmful impacts of stress on your teeth and gums!