A furrowed brow, a tense look, a fresh acne breakout — you can often tell on sight when someone’s under pressure. If you could look into a stressed-out person’s mouth, you might learn even more of their story.
Stress and Your Mouth: What’s the Connection?
More and more researchers have been studying the link between stress and gum disease. When you’re anxious or depressed, your body produces more of the hormone cortisol. This compound harms your teeth and gums, contributing to the risk for periodontal (gum) disease.
There’s also evidence that stress and depression impair your immune system,causing chronic infection throughout your body — including in your mouth — more likely. In addition, hard times lead to bad-for-your-teeth habits. These include smoking, drinking alcohol, and skipping your nightly brushing and flossing.
The following dental conditions also have been linked to stress, depression, or anxiety:
- Burning mouth syndrome. This a painful condition that sufferers describe as a scalding feeling in the tongue, lips, and roof of the mouth.
- Canker sores. Small, painful ulcers develop inside the mouth. Doctors aren’t sure what causes canker sores, but they are thought to appear more often when the individual is stressed or very tired.
- Cold sores. These fluid-filled blisters are caused by the herpes virus. If you’re infected, you’ll often experience an outbreak in response to being upset.
- Bruxism. People who grind their teeth (a problem called bruxism) tend to do it more when under stress. Grinding can wear and chip teeth and put pressure on jaw muscles and joints.
Ways to Relieve the Pressure
Don’t let your mouth take the brunt of your stress. Try positive stress-reducing techniques instead. Here are some strategies:
- Change your outlook. Some things, like the weather, are out of your hands and for that reason are not worth getting worked up about. Try to see other life events as positive challenges rather than threats.
- Keep your body healthy. Eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet and get enough sleep. And exercise on a regular basis. Not only will you get in shape and feel better overall, you’ll release anxiety and produce mood-boosting brain chemicals.
- Practice relaxation techniques. These include meditation, stretching, and deep breathing and progressive relaxation of muscle groups.
Electric toothbrushes have been widely touted, and indeed they can be equally effective as — or in some cases even more than — manual brushes when used consistently. A variety of studies have been done comparing different power toothbrushes, and while there is agreement that power brushes are safe, results in plaque-removing capabilities of the various devices have varied.
Understanding the Research
An analysis conducted by an independent nonprofit organization, Reference by Harvard University. compared various types of electric toothbrushes. Researchers systematically sorted through the data from studies done from 1966 to 2004 that compared power brushes’ effectiveness at removing plaque, maintaining gum health, and removing stains, as well as their dependability and adverse effects. The power brushes were divided into seven groups based on how they worked.
They found that most of the power toothbrushes were no more effective than manual toothbrushes. Just one type of brush — the rotation oscillation design (where the brush heads rotate in one direction and then the other) — was consistently better at removing plaque and reducing gingivitis (gum inflammation) than a manual toothbrush. Examples of the rotation oscillation action include brushes in the Braun Oral-B Triumph and Professional Care product lines.
Who Needs an Electric Brush?
An electric toothbrush can be particularly helpful for people who have trouble reaching all corners of their mouth. For example, power brushes are useful for people with braces, parents brushing their young children’s teeth, and individuals with mental or physical disabilities that impair dexterity. The thicker handle on power models also is a plus for some older people and people with arthritis who have difficulty grasping the thinner shaft of a manual brush.
But ultimately the best brush may simply be the one you feel most comfortable with. If you have questions, bring your toothbrush to your next dental visit so your dentist can examine it. While you’re at it, demonstrate your brushing technique so your dentist or hygienist can make sure you are brushing correctly.
Even if you had cavities when you were young, your child doesn’t have to develop them. Find out how to protect kids’ teeth from tooth decay. Practices like using fluoride to strengthen teeth and eating a balanced diet can set your child up for a healthy smile for life.
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