Everyone feels stressed at some point and this natural, universal reaction to internal and external stimuli serves as a critical survival instinct. Incidental stress, like driving in heavy traffic during an ice storm or dealing with a particularly abrasive customer at work, may leave a bad taste in your mouth but it does not have a significant impact on your health. However, a growing body of research shows that prolonged stress can have a profoundly negative effect on your health and well-being. According to Dr. Mark Miller, an Albuquerque NM dentist, too much stress can actually influence your oral health in three direct ways.
When financial worries or family demands stress you out, taking the time to brush and floss simply isn’t a priority. Even worse, your propensity for eating high fat and high sugar foods, drinking alcohol, missing out on sleep, and smoking increases during times of prolonged stress. Together, these behaviors leave your smile at a higher risk for plaque buildup, bad breath, tooth decay, and gingivitis.
The American Academy of Periodontology, backed by a wealth of peer-reviewed research and clinical evidence, has long indicated psychological stress as one of the primary risk factors for gum disease. Although the precise nature of this relationship remains unclear, most of the research points to a simultaneous lowering of immune function and an increase in inflammation during times of prolonged stress. In addition, people living with frequent stress often demonstrate poorer oral hygiene habits. In combination, these factors contribute to an ideal environment for oral bacteria to infect and colonize the gums. Untreated gum disease causes bad breath, gums that feel irritated and bleed easily after brushing, and is a leading contributor to adult tooth loss.
When you experience stress, your body triggers the release of chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol. These chemicals prompt a number of physiological responses, in particular tensing the muscles in preparation for fleeing or fighting. In times of prolonged stress (during periods of unemployment, for instance) you may unconsciously clench your jaw, often during sleep. Chronic clenching places excess strain on the TMJs, the intricate joints that connect the jaw to the cranium, which can cause tension headaches, sore facial muscles, migraines, and even difficulty opening and closing the mouth properly.
Lifestyle practices that actively reduce stress, when combined with regular dental hygiene at home and professional care with your dentist, can help you enjoy a healthier smile. Since many stress reduction techniques (like meditation and yoga) also work to increase your self-awareness, staying on top of your good dental hygiene habits becomes more intuitive. Stress reduction has been proven to reduce the effects of inflammation and improve immune function, meaning that your body can fight gum disease more efficiently. Finally, reducing the underlying, psychological causes of TMJ pain can complement professional TMJ care techniques like occlusal splint therapy.
At Snow Park Dental, Dr. Miller provides the preventive and restorative dental care you need to help you enjoy optimal oral health even in times of stress and anxiety. Contact us today at (505) 596-4479 to schedule a consultation or appointment. We proudly serve families from Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Corrales, Edgewood, Tijeras, Los Lunas, and surrounding communities.
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