Is stress destroying your teeth?

Stress is intertwined with the American way of life; according to a National Health Interview Survey, 75 percent of the general population feels stressed within every two-week period. Money, work and the economy are only a few of the most popular triggers for the pressure experiences and aside from impacting ones sanity, the condition can also cause major destruction to teeth.

When a person is feeling stressed out, a body will react by releasing a variety of hormones to help manage the issue. The mental pressure backed by the hormones can contribute to a myriad of health issues, including (but not limited to) headaches, nausea, weight gain or loss, sleep disorders, mood swings and much more. No two people handle the anxiety the same way and for some, major dental problems that can destroy teeth and dental health are another unfortunate side effect of the condition.

Tooth Erosion

Anyone who has every been under stress will attest to having the feeling of their stomach being "tied in knots" thanks to an upset gut. According to an August 2010 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, the problem is triggered by a part of the nervous system called the “brain-gut axis.” The brain/stomach connection is forever intertwined courtesy of the human body's natural "fight or flight" response to a situation. When a human enters this natural state of being, it can slow down the digestion process or make it stop completely so the body can focus at dealing with the threat at hand. It is that process that can cause stomach aches, loss of appetite and even vomiting. The latter is directly linked to causing tooth-erosion, showing how this reaction to stress can destroy teeth.

Once natural biological function of digestion is altered by stress, the relationship can cause a condition known as "cyclic vomiting syndrome," where nausea and regurgitation becomes the sad norm for a long period of time. The act of the partially digested food going back out of the mouth can wreak havoc on dental health. When food is consumed, bile is a fluid produced by most vertebrates in order to move the digestion process along. When the fluid stays in the intestine, oral health is not an issue. However, vomiting forces bile over teeth and the acid will erode tooth enamel, promote tooth decay and cause tooth discoloration.

Weakened Immunity

The human body features an intricate network including a self-regulatory immune system charged with fighting infection, disease and biological invasion. When everything is in check, a person will feel healthy and a body can help protect itself. However, those who are under stress can experience a weakened immune system caused by a myriad of reasons. According to Jeffrey Rossman, PhD, hormones, a temporary reduction in the size of the thymus gland (that produces white blood cells for fighting disease) and infection-fighting white blood cells and damaged immune cell reproduction genes (called telomeres) are all reactions to stress and combined will weaken the immune system ( Once the system is compromised, a body is vulnerable to infection and gum disease is part of that equation.

Gum disease is "infection of the tissues that support your teeth." When a person is under duress, the body's entire immune system can be compromised and unable to properly ward off infection. The oral cavity is incredibly vulnerable and stress will lower the abilities of the immune system while increasing the odds of infection occurring. Once the process has started, it can lead to a viscous continuous cycle and when left unchecked, gum disease can contribute to other issues including bad breath, abscesses and tooth loss.

Wear and Tear

Individuals who are stressed may be conditioned to try to "bite their tongue" to prevent any harsh words or irrational thoughts from reaching the public at large. As a result, they may subconsciously clench their jaws or grind their teeth as a result. Those behaviors can cause several conditions including bruxism and TMJ. When left untreated, those inflictions can contribute to excessive dental wear and tear, chipped teeth, cracked teeth, headaches, neck pain and other dental problems.

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