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Lucy Stock is a columnist for the Irish News

Chilling-out Can Save Your Teeth

by Lucy Stock BDS DipImpDent RCS (Eng)

Published in the Irish News . 19.03.2014

We are used to hearing about how stress affects our heart but research has also shown that high stress levels can affect many aspects of our teeth, gums and jaw joints. Stress is a natural response. During stressful situations the brain releases stress hormones, including cortisol, into the bloodstream, setting in motion a “fight or flight” response. While small increases in stress hormones are beneficial, higher and prolonged levels of stress hormones associated with chronic stress have been shown to result in many negative effects including a reduced ability to think clearly, increased blood pressure and lowered immunity. 

Research in the Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology led by Dr Mannem found that gum disease increased with the amount of stress experienced. Besides decreasing one’s resistance to gum infections, stress may also encourage habits that have a negative impact on oral health including not cleaning teeth as much, attending a dentist less often, smoking more, drinking more alcohol and eating more unhealthy snacks. According to the results, stress and high cortisol levels in saliva caused more bone loss which can ultimately cause teeth to fall out. A specific type of gum infection called acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis is also known as trench mouth. This is a painful condition where gums bleed and you get blunting of the pink triangular gum papillas between the teeth. It’s common in people who have a lifestyle that burns the candle at both ends, smoke, aren’t eating healthily and are under stress. The term “trench mouth” arose during WWI as many soldiers developed the disease, probably due to poor conditions and extreme psychological stress.

Often stress brings on ulcers. Although the exact relationship is unknown, mouth ulcers have been associated with decreased body immunity and the presence of bacteria and viruses. Stress is just one factor that makes people grind their teeth more. Grinding during sleep is particularly damaging as the forces exerted on the teeth, chewing muscles and jaw joints can be up to eight times that of normal eating. Teeth grinding can lead to tooth wear, sensitivity, loosen teeth and make them more prone to breaking. If you feel that you are under stress then try and incorporate time to de-stress. You could try yoga, regular massage, gentle exercise or meditation. Practising yoga for only 10 days reduces stress hormones in your blood.