When thinking of stress, the image of a person pulling her hair out comes to mind, but perhaps it should be one of pulling teeth instead. There is strong evidence proving that psychological health has a clear link to dental health. Managing stress levels and emotions does wonders to healing and protecting your teeth from cavities, toothache, and gum disease.
One of the major contributing factors to this relationship between stress and poor oral health is the fact that saliva production is impacted by stress. When a person is under consistently high levels of stress and worry, saliva production is decreased. On the other hand, after relaxing or meditating, saliva production is seen to have increased with a higher pH and greater concentration of minerals.
Because saliva is the mouth’s natural cleaning and enamel rebuilding agent, this makes a huge difference in repairing the daily wear and tear of teeth and keeping the teeth healthy and bacteria free.
Typically, gingivitis and periodontal disease, which is the infection of the gums, is caused by a build up of plaque and bacteria that eat away and inflame the gums. This causes them to swell and recede. Diet does play a large role in the equation, since those under stress or other emotional pressures, such as a break up, are more likely to eat a unhealthier diet containing foods with higher sugar and acid contents.
However, an interesting observation that has often been made is that people who are under stress and are simultaneously suffering from gum disease don’t have significant amounts of plaque build up around the affected areas. Combined with the fact that gingivitis is so common among college students during exams and people going through divorce, it’s a fair conclusion to draw that stress plays an unexpected role in gum disease.
Stress also triggers bruxism, or teeth grinding, in many people. The habitual and repeated grinding and/or clenching of the teeth leads to increased wear and pressure on the surfaces of the teeth, and if left unmanaged, it is possible for someone to grind his teeth down to stubs. Some people grind their teeth during their sleep, which is even more dangerous because it is harder to notice that it’s happening at all. If you experience soreness in our jaw or a dull, constant headache during the day, there is a good chance that you are grinding your teeth at night. Reducing stress, especially in the evening, will do much to reduce the effects of bruxism.
Another underlying factor is the fact that stress reduces the effectiveness of the body’s immune system. Combined with the aforementioned negative effects that stress has on the saliva production in the mouth, this makes one’s defenses against infection very weak. As a result, many people struggling with their psychological health often are seen suffering from cavities as well.
So the next time that you need a reason to make the time and effort to destress and relax, think about your chompers, your pearly whites.
Dr. Mina Tadros runs the Houston, TX based dental clinic, Tadros Dental. Dr. Tadros holds specialized expertise in cosmetic, general, and orthodontic dentistry.