I know my stress levels are high when I start to bite my nails — and while I'm fully aware of how bad the habit is for my manicure, I had no idea it could impact my dental health, too.
When the body is stressed, the immune system's ability to fight off harmful bacteria significantly drops — the imbalance can cause inflammation throughout the body, including the mouth, leading to gum disease and potentially tooth loss, Dr. Scott Young, DDS, a cosmetic dentist in The Woodlands, TX, says.
And to complicate things even more, symptoms of stress can have a major effect on your dental health, too.
"Symptoms such as nail-biting, canker sores, cold sores, TMJ disorder, grinding (also known as bruxism), and dry mouth can wreak havoc on the health and wellness of your mouth," Dr. Young says.
"The most common stress-induced oral health complications are cracked or chipped teeth, dry mouth, cold sores (fever blisters), canker sores (mouth ulcers), and lockjaw. When left untreated, stress can lead to gum disease and bone loss."
Medications used to treat stress and anxiety are often associated with dry mouth, which can cause bacteria buildup and other complications.
It's important to see a dentist if you think that stress is causing your dental health problems, but Dr. Young suggests you meet with a mental health professional, too.
"Treating the root cause of stress is the best way to overcome the oral health symptoms that may be presenting due to stress. A dentist can treat the physical issues in the mouth, but until the root cause of the stress is treated mentally, the symptoms will continue to be there."
And if you feel comfortable, be open with your doctor about the stress you're struggling with. Dr. Young says that some patients only present one symptom of stress-induced dental health problems, which can make it difficult for a dentist to identify stress as the cause of your pain.
"A dentist should always look first at the patient's health history and list of medications to determine if stress could possibly be the root cause of their issues. When multiple symptoms are present in the mouth, it is easier for a dentist to link stress as the possible cause of their oral health problems."