How stress affects your smile

Posted By: manager

Published on Oct 01, 2019

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It is now widely accepted that stress is one of the biggest contributors to mental and physical health issues in many people around the world. However it is less widely known that stress also has a large impact on oral health in particular. While it is already hard to smile when you are stressed out, it can be even harder to do so after stress has wreaked havoc on your gums and teeth.

If you are wondering how stress can affect your smile, keep reading on to find out.

Stress can make you neglect your oral hygiene

When you are stressed, it is easy to forget to take care of yourself. All your self-care practices go out the window, including those related to oral hygiene. You simply don't feel like brushing and flossing your teeth anymore when you are dealing with emotional stress, and this is further compounded by the loss of sleep and lack of energy that manifest as physical symptoms of stress.

Neglecting your oral hygiene routine is never good, but the negatives are compounded by the cravings for sugary foods often associated with feeling ‘stressed out’. This is because sugar increases serotonin (our “happy” chemical) levels in the brain, and is seen as a temporary reprieve from the negative emotional symptoms of stress. When you combine an increase in sugary foods with lack of proper brushing your mouth becomes a haven for bacteria, which can lead to serious problems. 

Stress can make you vulnerable to gum disease

Stress weakens the immune system, leaving your teeth vulnerable to gum disease. Researchers have shown that there is a link between gum disease and stress (Read the study here). They believe this is because mental stress is able to suppress the immune response of cells.

Gum disease is highly treatable, but if left unchecked, it can damage your gums, teeth and jawbone to the point surgery is required. Gum disease has also been said to increase the risk of heart and lung disease. Symptoms of gum disease are red, swollen and overly sensitive gums that bleed easily.

Stress can make your jaw ache

Stress can increase your risk of suffering from Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMD). TMD is a disorder of the joint that is characterised by jaw pain and clicking sounds. A person with TMD would also find it hard to chew in most scenarios. TMD happens when the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which connects the jawbone to the skull, becomes inflamed.

When you are stressed, you can unknowingly clench your teeth as a response. Constantly doing this can lead to too much pressure being exerted on the muscles and joints of the jaw, one of them being the TMJ. This overuse of the TMJ is what contributes to TMD, causing inflammation-related pain and discomfort.

Stress can cause ulcers

The exact cause of ulcers is unknown. However, we know that women are somehow more likely than men to suffer from an ulcer outbreak. Furthermore, we know that canker sores are linked (even if not directly) to emotional and physical stress. When ulcers appear in the mouth, they cause discomfort while eating and are very painful if accidentally bitten. 

The good news is that ulcers are not usually severe and can be effectively treated at home. Alternatively, they can be left alone, which will make them disappear in a week or two. Only when they become severe should one seek medical attention.

Stress can increase your risk of oral infections

As mentioned stress can result in a combination of a weakened immune system and a decrease in the quality of oral hygiene practises. These two factors work in tandem to create an environment in the mouth that largely increases the risk of oral infections. 

One of the most common oral infections is the inflammation of the gums known as Gingivitis. This happens when bacteria from plaque buildup causes your gums to become inflamed. One of the symptoms of gingivitis is bleeding gums, especially when brushing your teeth. If you experience these symptoms it is important to see your dentist and put a treatment plan in place before things get worse. 

Stress can be very difficult to manage, and the last thing you need when experiencing stress is additional health issues. By being aware of the secondary problems that stress is causing you can take steps to mitigate these issues. If you are concerned that your stress is having a negative impact on your health speak to your dentist. They will be able to offer you strategies and advice to help keep on top of your oral hygiene, so that your smile doesn’t have to suffer.