Stress less and smile more
Stress may be even more common than you think. One report showed that 75% of Americans experienced moderate to high stress within the last month. Why is that so problematic? Stress is linked to headaches, depression, sleep issues, high blood pressure, heart issues and more. It can even harm your oral health.
The good news: Stress can be managed. Here’s how stress and your mouth are connected, along with some practical stressbusters that will help keep you smiling.
How stress influences your oral health
- Teeth grinding or clenching, also called bruxism, can be caused by stress. Bruxism may lead to headaches, jaw and tooth pain and worn down, chipped or cracked teeth.
- Canker sores can also be caused by stress. These white or yellow sores usually form on the tongue cheeks or lips — and can be quite painful.
- Gum disease is also more common in people who are stressed. Gum disease is an infection of the gums and bones that support the teeth. It causes inflammation that can influence the mouth and other parts of the body. Serious gum disease can result in loose or lost teeth.
In addition, stress can lead to behaviors that have a negative influence on your oral health — including tobacco and alcohol usage and poor dietary and oral health habits.
One survey reported that more than half of dentists were seeing an increase in patients with dental conditions associated with stress.
Ways to reduce your stress
While stress won’t completely disappear from your life, your mind, body and teeth can benefit from these stress reducers:
- Identify your stress triggers: Figure out if your stress is caused by your daily routine, sudden changes in your life or trauma. You may be able to control the situation or at least change your reaction to the stressors.
- Ask for support from friends and family: Those closest to you can help reduce your stress by acting as sounding boards or by assisting you with your tasks. Staying connected will also help distract you from stress.
- Find relaxing activities: Do whatever helps you relax — get a massage, listen to music, watch a comedy, take a soothing bath, or practice meditation, yoga, deep breathing or muscle relaxation.
- Exercise regularly: Whether it’s biking, walking, participating in sports, swimming, jogging or gardening, exercise improves your sense of well-being, boosts your mood and relieves stress by releasing “feel good” endorphins.
- Eat a healthy diet: A balanced diet that prioritizes smile-friendly fruits, vegetables, dairy products, protein and whole grains will make you feel better and improve your oral health.
- Get enough sleep: Sleep allows your body and brain to recharge, which influences your mood, energy level and concentration.
- Manage screen time: Too much time spent with your phone, tablet, computer or television can stress you out — especially if you are an avid user of social media. Use some of that time to visit with others, go outside or read a book.
- Avoid unhealthy habits: Drinking beverages containing a lot of caffeine or alcohol, using tobacco or not eating a balanced diet are ineffective ways of dealing with stress as they harm your oral and overall health.
- Maintain a healthy smile: Don’t forget your daily oral health routine of brushing twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and flossing once a day. Getting gum disease and cavities will only add to stress levels.
- Take time off: After taking a vacation, 57% of workers said they felt less stressed. In addition, people who take all of their paid time off are 56% happier with their health.
If self-care doesn’t do enough to relieve your stress, contact your physician or a professional therapist to help you cope.