Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Stress and Your Oral Health

Stress and Your Oral Health
It’s holiday time and that means stress.  Excess stress may give you more than a headache, a stomachache, or just a feeling of being "on edge."  Too much stress could also harm your mouth, teeth, gums, and overall health.
Stress and anxiety affect your oral health with:
·         Mouth sores, including canker sores and cold sores
·         Clenching of teeth and teeth grinding (bruxism)
·         Poor oral hygiene and unhealthy eating routines
·         Periodontal (gum) disease or worsening of existing periodontal disease
So how can you prevent these oral health problems?
Mouth Sores
Canker sores -- small ulcers with a white or grayish base and bordered in red -- appear inside the mouth, sometimes in pairs or even greater numbers. Although experts aren't sure what causes them -- it could be immune system problems, bacteria, or viruses -- they do think that stress, as well as fatigue and allergies, can increase the risk of getting them. Canker sores are not contagious.
Most canker sores disappear in a week to 10 days. For relief from the irritation, try over-the-counter topical anesthetics. To reduce irritation, don't eat spicy, hot foods or foods with a high acid content, such as tomatoes or citrus fruits.
Cold sores, also called fever blisters, are caused by the herpes simplex virus and are contagious. Cold sores are fluid-filled blisters that often appear on or around the lips, but can also crop up under the nose or around the chin area.
Emotional upset can trigger an outbreak. So can a fever, a sunburn, or skin abrasion.
Like canker sores, fever blisters often heal on their own in a week or so. Treatment is available, including over-the-counter remedies and prescription antiviral drugs. Ask your doctor or dentist if you could benefit from either. It's important to start treatment as soon as you notice the cold sore forming.

Teeth Grinding
Stress may make you clench and grind your teeth -- during the day or at night, and often subconsciously. Teeth grinding is also known as bruxism.
If you already clench and grind your teeth, stress could make the habit worse. And, grinding your teeth can lead to problems with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), located in front of the ear where the skull and lower jaw meet.  Grinding your teeth will make them more sensitive, it will cause enamel defects at the gum line that lead to decay, and tooth fracture.
See your doctor and ask what can be done for the clenching and grinding. Your dentist may recommend a night guard, worn as you sleep, or another appliance to help you stop or minimize the actions.

Poor Oral Hygiene
Being under extreme stress may affect your mood and cause you to skip oral hygiene habits such as brushing, flossing, and rinsing.
If you don't take care of your mouth, your teeth and overall oral health can suffer. If you already have gum disease, skipping daily hygiene may worsen the problem. If your mouth is in relatively good health, falling short on these healthy mouth habits can lead to gum disease or increase your risk of cavities.
When under stress, you may also develop unhealthy eating habits, such as snacking on large amounts of sugary foods or drinks. These habits increase the risk for tooth decay and other problems.
Just reminding yourself of the importance of hygiene and healthy eating may help. Boosting or resuming your exercise routine can help you relieve stress and feel energized enough to tend to your oral hygiene and cook healthier meals. Exercise will also boost your immune system -- and that, too, is good for your oral health.
Gum Disease
Stress can cause an increase in dental plaque, even when the high stress levels are short-term. That's according to a study that evaluated people who cared for loved ones with dementia and who experienced stress.
Long-term, the stress these caregivers felt boosted their risk of bleeding gums, or gingivitis, which can progress to serious gum disease.

Stress can lead to depression. You can't make depression or the stress disappear, of course. But experts say that learning healthy coping strategies can help reduce the risk of gum problems getting worse. Healthy coping is "problem-focused" with active and practical strategies to deal with the stress and depression, experts say. 
Remember, eating a balanced diet, seeing your dentist regularly, and good oral hygiene help reduce your risks of periodontal disease. Make sure you brush at least twice a day and floss daily. Antibacterial mouth rinses also help reduce plaque-causing bacteria.