Oral Health: The Often-Overlooked Casualty of Stress
You’re probably aware of the toll everyday stress takes on your health. Headaches, weight gain, insomnia – the list goes on and on. But you may not realize how stress affects your oral health. People with greater levels of perceived stress report poorer oral health, according to a study published in BMC Oral Health. And poor oral health raises the risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Teeth grinding, teeth clenching and jaw issues are some of the more obvious consequences of stress. But emotional stress is also the primary culprit for cold sores and canker sores. And it can cause dry mouth, raising the risk for cavities and tooth decay. Most importantly, it can lead to periodontal disease, which affects about 70 percent of Americans over age 65, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“When there’s too much bacteria in your mouth, it creates a sticky film or tartar that settles on the gums. If not treated, the tartar will harden into plaque and inflame the gums,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “This is gingivitis and left untreated, it can progress to periodontitis – a serious gum infection.”
Periodontitis begins when dental plaque builds up and hardens underneath the gums, causing gums to pull away from teeth. Infection develops in the gaps between the gums and teeth, damaging the surrounding tissue and potentially leading to tooth loss. What’s really concerning is that some researchers believe the bacteria from these infections enter the bloodstream, causing low-grade inflammation throughout the body.
Low-grade inflammation is associated with an overactive immune system and it can wreak havoc on your health. For instance, it promotes a buildup of cholesterol plaques along the inner lining of blood vessels, causing the vessels to weaken and narrow. It can also cause cholesterol plaques to erupt, triggering your body to form a clot over the wounded blood vessel, which can interfere with, sometimes even stop, blood flow to the heart or brain.
How does stress fit into this scenario? Stress fosters inflammation. Emotional trauma, just like physical injury and illness, can activate an immune response, changing the gene activity of immune cells and raising your inflammation levels. In fact, inflammation is a common pathway of stress-related diseases, according to a review published in Frontiers in Human Science.
“The common coping mechanisms for stress are also problem. Smoking, heavy alcohol use and eating processed, sugary foods, which are detrimental to your teeth and gums, and generate inflammation,” says Kaminetsky. “If you have a stressful life, sit down with your primary care physician to help you create a plan to help you control stress and keep tabs on your inflammatory markers and cardiovascular health.”
If you don’t have a primary care physician, consider partnering with an MDVIP-affiliated physician. They have time to really work with you and develop a wellness plan that can help you control risks factors that raise your risk for cardiovascular disease. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health »