How Does Stress Affect Our Oral Health?

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Getting to Know Stress: What is it?

Defined as a response to threat or pressure, whether real or perceived, stress can affect anyone anywhere. It serves as our body’s response to help prevent injury and protect us. When the body is under stress, the individual experiences increased heart rate, quickened breathing, tight muscles, and high blood pressure.

The Quick Stats: What the numbers say about it?

  • 77 percent of Americans regularly experience the physical symptoms of stress
  • 73 percent of Americans periodically suffer the psychological signs of stress
  • 33 percent of Americans are under extreme stress
  • 48 percent of Americans think their stress level has increased in the last five years

Behind the Stress: What causes it?

The causes of stress include money, job pressures, relationships, health, poor nutrition, media overload, and sleep deprivation. However, among these identified causes, money and work were cited by 76 percent of Americans as the leading causes behind their stress.

Identifying Stress: What are its signs and symptoms?

The symptoms of stress are often ambiguous. Nonetheless, these symptoms affect all aspects of people’s lives in terms of physical, behavioral, emotional, and cognitive aspects.

Physical symptoms of stress include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Insomnia
  • Low energy level
  • Loss of sexual desire and ability
  • Tensed muscles
  • Dry mouth
  • Frequent colds
  • Teeth grinding
  • Nervousness
  • Clenched jaw
  • Cold or sweaty hands or feet
  • Shaking
  • Ringing in the ear

On the other hand, symptoms can also manifest in behavior such as:

  • Procrastination
  • Neurotic behaviors like nail biting
  • Change in appetite
  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs, and cigarette
  • Emotional indicators of stress include:
  • Frustration and agitation
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling the need to take control or losing control
  • Low self-esteem
  • Loneliness or depression
  • Difficulty relaxing or calming the mind
  • Avoiding social contact
  • Worthlessness

Meanwhile, cognitive indications of stress are:

  • Inability to focus
  • Poor judgment
  • Constant worrying
  • Forgetfulness
  • Pessimism
  • Racing thoughts

Results of Stress: How does it affect the Oral Health?

Stress and its symptoms and consequences can significantly affect oral health. For example, when jaw muscles tighten and teeth are clenched during stressful moments, it can lead to temporomandibular disorders. It can also result in enamel wear and teeth sensitivity.

As stress can lower the immune system, stressed individuals become more susceptible to canker and cold sores. Meanwhile, dry mouth can often lead to tooth decay, oral infections, and periodontal disease because of the reduced production of saliva which is vital in combating the naturally-occurring bacteria in the mouth.

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