How Stress Contributes to Periodontal Disease

In more than two dozen studies conducted over 16 years, researchers found a 57 percent correlation between stress and periodontal disease. This is a significant link and one that you should be aware of if you're dealing with stress, dental issues, or both. Addressing them together could be the key to better health.

The Way Stress Works

To understand how stress and periodontal disease are linked, it's important to first understand how stress works on a chemical level. The immune system, endocrine system, and nervous system typically communicate with one another using bidirectional signals. When these flow smoothly, everything operates in a healthy and balanced manner. Stress disrupts the entire system. The immune system is no longer able to inform the hormonal system of what it needs to continue functioning optimally, and the hormonal system delivers too great or too small an amount of the chemicals responsible for our physical well-being and emotional balance.

Stress can be healthy when it's a temporary response to a situation that's experienced infrequently. A short burst of stress can motivate the body to overcome an impending challenge, whether this means heightening your awareness of a threat or giving you the brief ability to achieve a hyper-focused state as you prepare for a test. However, many people feel near-constant strain from chronic stress. This wears the body down, overriding the potential benefits.

How Stress Impacts Dental Health

How Stress Contributes to Periodontal Disease

Image via Flickr by .v1ctor Casale.

Stress impacts the release of neuropeptides, adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol, hypothalamic hormones, and pituitary hormones. The disruptive combination of chemical imbalances that's caused by constant stress can contribute in many ways to periodontal disease and other health issues. 

Long-term stress can release a regular flood of neuropeptides which in turn increase inflammation and promote tissue damage. Higher cortisol levels can lower the body's immunity. Cortisol is usually an anti-inflammatory agent, but when it's mass produced in the gums, it boosts the protein production there, causing excess inflammation in this area.

Studies on children with dental problems indicate that stress can increase bacteria in the mouth that cause cavities. Stress triggers in children may result in abscesses and dental caries, too.

Bad Habits of Stressed Individuals

It's difficult for researchers to determine the actual cause of periodontal disease in highly-stressed individuals because stress precipitates other behaviors that are bad for dental health. People who are under an immense amount of stress often neglect their dental hygiene. They might become depressed or despondent and simply fail to keep up with regular brushing, flossing, and dental visits.

If you're under a lot of stress, you may also engage in unhealthy coping behaviors that increase your risk for periodontal disease, such as smoking or chewing tobacco. Eating a poor diet is another contributor. If you tend to binge on sugary foods and miss out on your daily servings of fruits and vegetables when you're under a lot of stress, you're giving your mouth a greater challenge to deal with each day and making it more susceptible to disease.

When Periodontal Disease Makes Stress Worse

The correlation between periodontal disease and stress can go both ways, making the issue worse. Periodontal disease is associated with several unpleasant symptoms including pain, bad breath, bleeding of the gums, and bad tastes in the mouth. Severe periodontal diseases cause loosening of the teeth and may eventually result in tooth loss.

Dealing with unpleasant cosmetic issues, discomfort, and the fear of losing one's teeth is certainly a stressful situation. Patients who are battling with periodontal disease, regardless of the initial cause, are likely to feel heightened levels of stress as a result. This in turn will disrupt the body's chemical responses and may simply make the problem worse.

Evaluating Risk Factors for Periodontal Disease

There are several other risk factors for periodontal disease that may increase your likelihood of developing serious oral health problems when coupled with stress. Common risk factors include:

  • Diabetes
  • Poorly fitted bridges
  • Crooked teeth
  • Defective fillings
  • Use of certain medications such as oral contraceptives, anti-epilepsy drugs, cancer treatments, steroids, and calcium channel blockers
  • Hormonal changes due to pregnancy

If you have any of these common risk factors, it's important to give your dental health extra care and attention. Consider stress management a logical part of your wellness plan. If you address your mental and emotional state as vigilantly as you care for your physical health, you can ensure enhanced overall well-being.

How to Handle Stress

With the link between stress and other health issues in mind, you can easily see the importance of keeping stress under control. Stress can have both physical and emotional symptoms. These include:

  • Agitation and moodiness
  • Trouble sleeping or relaxing
  • Isolation and low self-esteem
  • Headaches
  • Body aches and pains
  • Nausea and upset stomach
  • Frequently clenched teeth or tooth grinding

If you notice you're exhibiting signs of stress, make an action plan to deal with it before it does real damage to your health. This includes adding daily exercise to your routine, pursuing rewarding activities and hobbies, forming strong positive bonds with others, and finding effective ways to relax, such as yoga, meditation, or journaling.

Smart Oral Hygiene Habits

Along with your stress-management routine, you should make sure you're following smart oral hygiene habits to keep periodontal disease at bay, even when high-stress situations occur in your life. This means that you should brush twice a day and floss once daily. Don't be embarrassed if you're unsure of the proper way to brush or floss. Your dentist will be happy to review the most effective approach. You may have distinctive dental features that present a challenge, but it's important to find a way to keep all tooth surfaces clean.

Make sure your toothpaste contains fluoride to strengthen your tooth enamel. Eat a healthy balanced diet and schedule a visit to your dentist once every six months. Your dentist may recommend more frequent appointments if you have risk factors for periodontal disease.

It's not uncommon for a seemingly unrelated area of your health to impact your teeth. Many diseases are linked to dental health. Understanding the connection will give you the tools you need to pursue wellness in every area. Make sure you treat your health concerns comprehensively, and take the necessary steps to stay well physically, mentally, and emotionally.

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