Managing stress is one of our favorite topics to talk about because we believe that your emotional state and your overall health are very much intimately connected. In our article ‘The fascinating link between stress and oral health,’ we discuss how negative emotions can actually alter our DNA, which leads to a depletion of the immune system and decreases the body’s ability to regulate its inflammatory response. This, therefore, makes the body susceptible to a variety of diseases.
In this article, however, we want to get a little more specific about what stress actually does to the body and even more specifically – the effect it has on our oral health. We’ll also be suggesting some amazing techniques to help you chill out a little bit more!
What happens to the body when we’re stressed?
During periods of stress, the brain sends defense signals to the endocrine system, which then releases a flood of stress hormones including cortisol and adrenaline that prepare our body for emergency action. This bodily reaction is also known as your “fight or flight” response – your heart beats faster, your breath quickens and your muscles get ready for action.
This fight or flight response also triggers the sympathetic nervous systems to stimulate the adrenal glands to release catecholamines, which include dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline and plays a critical role in helping us deal with dangerous situations.
Frequent activation of the fight or flight response, however, burns out our adrenals, leads to digestive problems, increases the risk of heart disease and massively depletes our immune system.
Many experts even claim that stress is responsible for 90% of illnesses, including cancer and heart disease. This is mainly due to the fact that the hormones flooding our body in times of stress, decrease white blood cells and NK cells (cells that kills cancer), which therefore make us extremely susceptible to infection and tissue damage.
How does stress affect oral health?
- Mouth sores such as canker sores or cold sores—one of the main causes for mouth sores is emotional stress.
- Poor oral hygiene—if you’re feeling stressed and are super busy, you may find yourself not having the time to brush your teeth or floss regularly.
- Teeth grinding and jaw clenching (bruxism) from constant worrying and overthinking. This often happens during sleep and many people do not realize they’re doing it. If you feel stressed before you go to sleep or experience headaches when you wake up, you may be grinding your teeth at night.
- Poor diet/nutrition—stress can cause you to resort to fast food or crave foods that lack the vitamins and minerals that your body needs to stay healthy.
- Missed dental appointments—you may find yourself too busy to see your dentist regularly.
- Dry mouth – stress is the number one reason for dry mouth! This is why when you are about to have an important interview, give a presentation or go on stage, you will usually experience dry mouth. Saliva not only helps to flush away food particles but it contains essential minerals that prevent tooth decay and gum disease, so lack of adequate saliva can lead to a whole variety of teeth and gum problems.
- Development of gum disease or worsening of existing gum problems—stress weakens the immune system, which means immune cells become less able to clear infection.
How to manage stress!
Relax! Relax! Relax! Yes we know, easier said than done, right? Especially when you have deadlines to meet, phone calls to make, emails to get back to and household errands to complete! We know how busy your lives can get. But if you want anything close to a peaceful, happy and healthy life, you need to learn how to take a step back, breathe and relax.
Our article ‘The fascinating link between stress and oral health’ gives you a simple step by step process to calm that monkey mind. All it takes is 10-15 minutes out of your day, preferably in the morning, to spend time calming and stilling your mind. Meditation is the ultimate remedy for reducing stress.
We recommend trying our ‘7-day Mind and Body Detox,’ which gives you some yummy suggestions for eating a healthy, balanced diet as well as some great exercises and practical tips to achieve a positive mindset.
And one thing we would like you all to do right now, while you’re reading this, is take one big long breath in and slowly out.
Feel it bring instant relief to your body and mind.
Remember to keep breathing deeply, and take regular ‘time-outs’ from your busy schedule.
Stress is a big factor in many health problems. So the calmer you begin to feel, the healthier you will become.