2020 was a stressful one.
But now, as vaccine rates continue to climb and business and day to day life begin to look familiar, we’re all facing a new kind stress – the stress of getting back to ‘normal.’
Whether you’re dreading the return to an in-person work environment, anxiously awaiting your vaccine, or simply coming to terms with the idea that the pandemic is nearly over, you’re probably feeling at least a little stressed right about now.
And we know stress is hard on the body, but have you ever considered the ways in which stress can affect your smile? April is Stress Awareness Month and frankly, it couldn’t have come at a better time. As we prepare for the return to ‘normal’ life, we’re highlighting the ways in which stress takes a toll on your oral and overall health and offer a few easy tips to help you manage it.
How Your Mouth Responds to Stress
When we humans sense danger, our bodies respond by unleashing a surge of hormones, called the “Fight or Flight” response. This is necessary in the short term as it helps you to react quickly and protect yourself from harm. But when the stressors don’t go away, your body can get stuck in fight-or-flight mode, leading to a whole host of unintended consequences — especially when it comes to your mouth.
Increased risk of gum disease: During times of increased stress, you produce more of the hormone called cortisol. This helps turn off bodily processes not directly related to survival. But it also lowers your ability to fight off infection, including infection in your gums.
Canker sores: Canker sores are small, sensitive ulcers that grow on the soft tissue of your mouth, including cheeks, tongue, and gums. They’re caused by a whole host of things, but one of the most common is stress. Stress also increases your chances of developing canker sores. While canker sores are neither contagious nor cause for concern, they’re usually a sign that something bigger is going on and that it might be time to practice some self-care.
Bruxism (tooth grinding): When your body enters fight-or-flight mode, it sends a message to your muscles: tense up and prepare to fight or flee. Most of us clench our jaws or grind their teeth in response. You might not even be aware it’s happening – the Sleep Foundation estimates that around 8% of adults grind their teeth while they sleep. This constant, heavy pressure on your teeth increases your risk of fractures or chips, which may lead to more serious issues down the line.
Reducing Stress — For the Sake of Your Mouth
You deserve a little TLC. Here are few techniques you can try to help manage your stress and keep your body balanced.
Get your beauty rest: Aim for eight hours of sleep each night. Studies show that a lack of sleep can raise stress levels. On the other hand, a good night’s sleep can go a long way toward helping you feel balanced.
Smile: Simple, right? Smiling releases endorphins, which can help lower stress. Endorphins also naturally reduce cortisol, which can in turn protect your teeth and gums from unwanted infections.
Get a move on it: Exercise helps keep your body and your stress in check. If possible, block out 30 minutes for activity each day – we’re sure Fido would appreciate it!
Maintain Your Oral Care Routine
Keeping up on your oral hygiene helps protect your teeth year-round. But did you know that the simple routine of brushing and flossing can actually help with reducing stress levels? Research shows that poor oral health leads to increased anxiety and low self-esteem, so maintaining your daily brushing-and-flossing routine is especially important.
You might be feeling like the world is speeding back up and you can’t quite get a grip on it all. But you can take charge of your oral health. And sometimes, that’s all you need to make a big difference.