As a practitioner of dental wellness Dr. Tiffany Shields believes that wellness of the entire body contributes to oral wellness. She acknowledges the link between oral and total wellness and knows that the mouth is the gateway to the body. Impeccable oral health can contribute to good health, but that also poor health can lead to poor oral health. Such is the case with stress. Stress is the cause of many problems both mental and physical, and yes, it can even affect your dental well being.
What Is Stress?
Stress is caused by stressors, or environmental factors that make us feel overwhelmed or unsafe. When our body reacts to a stressor it reaches back thousands of years into our primordial brains to enact the flight or fight response. Stressors can be anything from having an extra and unforeseen project handed to you at work, having your mother stop by unexpectedly, hearing the fire alarm go off in your home, or being cut off in traffic. Your body reacts to a stressor with stress. The flight or fight response shuts or slows down all non-essential bodily functions and provides increased blood flow to your muscles, and brain to ensure you can think clearly and act swiftly in any situation. In the days of early man, this response was easily dealt with and passed over allowing the non-essential systems to resume their work. In today’s world there are many stressors we react to every day, and for some of us the stress is never ending. Unfortunately when stress is never ending, it can cause very serious problems for your whole body.
The flight or fight response is fascinating, when activated by a stressor it ensures you are able to move quickly and with purpose by increasing blood flow to the muscles and corresponding brain regions. In doing so it slows down digestion and the immune system so your body can deal with the task at hand. If your stress were to go away, your immune and digestive systems would return to work, and you would be fine. For people with chronic stress, this is not the case. Their immune and digestive systems remain sluggish which can wreak havoc on a person’s oral health. Chronic stress is extremely harmful to your body and wellness, common side effects of chronic stress include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating
- High blood pressure
- Lowered immune response
- Heart disease
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Back and chest pain
- Anxiety and Depression
- Anger and irritability
Stress and Dental Health
Stress’s effect on dental health manifests in many forms. The lowered immune response is one of the biggest factors. When the immune system is suppressed by your flight or fight response it makes it difficult to fend off infections in the mouth. Further when you feel stressed out, you may also feel burned out and lethargic making brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day seem like a chore akin to climbing Everest. Unfortunately, bacteria in the mouth will take over if not kept in check. When bacteria is able to proliferate in the mouth, dental decay and gum disease and inflammation are sure to follow. With a lowered immune system your body is less able to fight off gum inflammation and periodontal disease.
Another effect of stress on your dental health can be cracked, chipped, broken, and ground down teeth. For some tooth grinding is a sympathetic response to everyday stressors. This can be a major problem for people with chronic stress because their teeth are under siege every day. If stress is not managed or kept in check expensive and extensive dental work may follow, adding more stresses onto an already full plate.
For people dealing with stress, relief can seem nonexistent. However, there are many things you can do to manage stress in your life. Admitting you have stress is the first step. Once you recognize that you are stressed, it’s important to take time and see what is stressing you out and remove the stress that can be removed. Take some time for yourself and get plenty of sleep. This will help the body recharge and get the body back in order. Adding exercise every day as well as cutting back or cutting out unhealthy habits like smoking and excessive alcohol will also help you reduce stress in your life. The less stress you have the better you will feel and the more time you can dedicated to making sure you are well.
If you have questions about the effects of stress on your dental health and how to manage your levels of stress, call our Jacksonville dental office today to set up an appointment. Dr. Shields understands the link between stress and declining oral health and can help you begin to manage your stress so you can life a full, healthful, and exciting life.