The toll of stress on your body is just beginning to be understood. Chronic stress has been linked to anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain, poor memory, and more.
Stress impacts physical and mental wellbeing, and it can have negative effects on your oral health, including infections, canker sores, dry mouth, and other problems.
According to the World Health Organization, “Stress can be defined as a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation. Stress is a natural human response that prompts us to address challenges and threats in our lives.”
Certain types of stress, such as the natural stress response, helps our body prepare for a perceived threat by releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones give you more energy by increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. They also slow nonessential functions that are not considered beneficial to the flight or fight response.
Why does this response happen? Millions of years ago ancient humans had threats like predators that required a fast response from the body for survival. Today, modern humans may not deal with the same types of threats, but dealing with heavy workloads, caring for your family, paying bills, and other day-to-day activities are still perceived as threats in the body.
Normally, once a perceived threat is gone, hormone levels return to normal and the body can return to an unstressed state. However, if someone is feeling constantly stressed these hormones cannot return to normal levels. This inability to “turn off” the hormones disrupts nearly all of the body’s functions, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The connection between stress and poor oral health is not as studied as the connection between stress and physical and mental health. However, there are a number of known oral health problems that have been linked in high stress levels, including:
To lessen the impact of stress on oral health, it's essential to practice stress-reducing techniques such as regular exercise, meditation, deep breathing exercises, and seeking support from friends, family, or professionals. Additionally, maintaining a healthy oral hygiene routine and scheduling regular dental check-ups can help prevent or address oral health issues made worse by stress.