Stress and Your Oral Health

April 8, 2020

It’s safe to say we are all experiencing a good deal of stress right now. With everything going on in the world, brushing and flossing is probably the last thing on your mind. But did you know that your body’s physical response to stress actually puts you at greater risk for oral health problems?

Not only that but keeping up on self-care — including oral health habits — is a powerful tool for managing stress in the first place. When it comes to your teeth and your stress, it’s a two-way street. Here is how stress affects your oral health, and what you can do to improve it.

How Your Mouth Responds to Stress

When we humans sense danger, our bodies respond by unleashing a surge of hormones. Fight or flight. This is necessary in the short term; it helps you act quickly and protect yourself. But when the stressors don’t go away, your body can get stuck in fight-or-flight mode. Long term, this leads to a whole host of unintended consequences — including some consequences in your mouth.

Increased risk of gum disease: During high stress, you produce more of the hormone cortisol. This helps turn off bodily processes not directly related to survival. But it also lowers your ability to fight off infection, including infection in your gums.

Canker sores: Stress also increases your chances of developing canker sores. These aren’t harmful, but a canker sore is a good sign that it’s time to practice some self-care.

Bruxism (tooth grinding): When your body enters fight-or-flight, it sends a message to your muscles: tense up and prepare to fight or flee. Many people clench their jaws or grind their teeth in response. This pressure on your teeth increases your risk of fractures or chips.

Reducing Stress — For the Sake of Your Mouth

You deserve a little TLC right now — for the sake of your body, your mouth, and your overall health. Try these techniques for managing stress and keeping your body in balance.
Get your beauty rest: Aim for eight hours of sleep each night. Studies show a lack of sleep increases stress. On the other hand, a good night’s sleep goes a long way toward feeling balanced.

Smile: Simple, right? Smiling releases endorphins, which lower stress. Endorphins also naturally reduce cortisol, the pesky hormone that increases your risk of gum disease.

Get a move on it: Exercise helps keep your body in balance and your stress in check. If possible, block out 30 minutes for activity each day.

Maintain Your Brush-and-Floss Routine

Keeping up on your oral hygiene helps protect your teeth during times of stress. But the simple routine of brushing and flossing helps with stress reduction, too. Research shows poor oral health leads to increased anxiety and low self-esteem. Maintaining this routine — and some sense of normalcy— is especially important right now. Although there are many things you can’t control, you can control your oral hygiene. And sometimes, it is the little things that make all the difference.