The effects of stress on your dental and physical health
By Drs. Karla Bloomquist and Chiarina Iregui, SoundBridge Dental Arts and Sleep Therapy
In light of the current pandemic, it is important to address how stress affects your dental and physical health. It is reported by the American Institute of Stress that 43 percent of all adults suffer adverse effects due to stress.1,2 They also estimate that up to 85 percent of all diseases and illnesses may be stress related.2 Unfortunately, chronic stress and the inability to cope with it has the most effect on health. Chronic stress leads to eventual depletion of physical and mental resources, to exhaustion, and eventually leads to physiological symptoms of chronic diseases.3 Examples range from heart attack, stroke, cancer and mental health issues that can result in substance abuse, suicide, violence and nervous breakdown.
It is because of this that it is key for health-care providers to be perceptive and vigilant with patients on assessing the potential signs and symptoms of chronic stress. Due to the fact that your dentist sees you at least twice a year, they are in a prime position to notice changes in your health that can be due to stress. In addition to noticing changes in your physical health, your dentist, upon evaluating your oral health, should notice how stress manifests itself in the health of your teeth and gums.
Physical symptoms of stress may include an upset stomach, difficulty sleeping, headaches, GI issues, tightness in your chest and throat, or exhaustion, which can lead to the craving of sugary foods, to name a few. Your dentist’s role is to be queued in to how these types of symptoms affect the integrity of your teeth. Stomach upset/GI issues can lead to gastric reflux. This is when acid from your stomach works its way up your esophagus. This acid is extremely degrading to the enamel, the hard covering of your teeth. And, we all know that sweets lead to cavities. Habits of constantly feeding the “bad bacteria” with acid and sweets is a recipe for dental disaster.
Emotional and behavioral symptoms of stress that potentially affect your dental health are excessive drinking, drug use, and grinding and clenching of your teeth. More often than not, dental health is the first sign that your overall health is potentially deteriorating as we see dry mouth, decay, worn and fractured teeth, and an increase in inflammation and/or deterioration of your gums.
Stress is shown to be one of the main culprits associated with the inability to fall asleep. Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep nightly. If this does not occur because you are unable to sleep due to stress, your body can not do what it needs to do during sleep in order to keep you healthy. Your immune system suffers, your body can not repair itself from the day’s work, your cognitive ability declines and your ability to tolerate daily life becomes difficult—leading to more stress. It is easy to see how this cycle takes your health down a path of destruction.
Implementing strategies to cope with stress will help decrease the effects it has on your overall health. Be aware of the symptoms and ask questions if you are concerned about your stress level and your health. Although your dentist focuses on your oral health, you have to remember, your mouth is often a window to your overall health, and your dentist is a great resource.
1) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health. Adult Stress-Frequently Asked Questions. Available at: NIMH.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml. Accessed on February 6, 2013.
2) Seaward BL. Managing Stress. Principles and Strategies for Health and Well-Being. 7th Ed. Jones & Bartlett Learning. Burlington, MA 2012.
3) Lenz, Thomas. Lifestyle Medicine for Chronic Diseases. Prevention Publishing, Omaha, Nebraska 2013