Most of us know that stress can cause high blood pressure, unhappiness, fatigue, backache, immune disorders, substance abuse, sexual problems, addictive behaviors and a host of other bad stuff. But did you know that stress can also lead to periodontal disease and tooth loss?
According to the American Academy of Periodontology, the problem is two-fold. First of all, chronic stress often leads to a high level of cortisol in the bloodstream, a chemical which is linked to a rapidly aggressive form of periodontal (gum) disease. Secondly, in a study published in the Journal of Periodontology, it was reported that 56% of people who report stress find that it leads them to neglect basic oral hygiene procedures such as brushing and flossing, leading to increased tooth loss.
Ironically, a major cause of stress is the financial situation in which people find themselves during the current difficult economy; the resulting decline in periodontal (gum) health often leads to expensive dental bills, making the problem worse. Actually, an earlier article in the same journal reported that patients with periodontal disease had 21 % higher health care costs than those with healthy gums.
According to David Cochran, DDS, PhD, President of the American Academy of Periodontology and Chair of the Department of Periodontics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, stress can make an individual more susceptible to harmful habits that negatively impact oral health. “Stress may lead an individual to abuse tobacco or alcohol, and to possibly even neglect his or her oral hygiene. These lifestyle choices are known risk factors for the development of periodontal disease, which has been connected to several other chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes.”
So what can we do?
“In these stressful times I encourage my patients to pay even more attention to their teeth and gums,” says Dr. Cochran. “And in turn, since preventing gum disease may help reduce overall health care expenses, maintaining a healthy mouth may actually be a stress reliever in itself.”
Stress is more likely to rear its ugly head if you’re not taking care of yourself. So remember to put yourself first. These strategies may help you stay on course:
- Simplify your life. Rather than looking for ways to squeeze more activities or chores into the day, find a way to leave some things out. Ask yourself what really needs to be done: What can wait and what can be dropped entirely? It’s OK to say no.
- Manage your time wisely. Update your to-do list every day — both at work and at home. Delegate what you can and break large projects into manageable chunks. Tackle the rest one task at a time.
- Be prepared. Anticipate challenges. Whether it’s preparing for a project at work, planning a family gathering or handling a sick child, being prepared can help you face stressful situations with confidence. If necessary, set aside extra time to calm your frayed nerves.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise can help keep depression and anxiety at bay. Consider it a break from the tension of daily life.
- Eat smart. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can give you more energy — plus the fuel you need to keep stress under control. If you tend to nibble when you’re stressed, don’t let your emotions take over. Consider whether you’re truly hungry before you have a snack. And don’t be fooled by the jolt you may get from caffeine — it’ll wear off quickly.
- Adjust your attitude. If you find yourself thinking, “This can’t be done,” snap back to attention. Think instead, “This will be tough. But we can make it work.” Putting a positive spin on negative thoughts can help you work through stressful situations.
- Take a break. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, take some time to clear your mind. A few slow stretches or a quick stroll may renew your energy for the task at hand. Or you could take a mental vacation — imagine yourself in a calm, relaxing place. Picture yourself accomplishing your task.
- Relax. Set aside time for yourself every day, even if it’s only a few minutes. When you feel your muscles begin to tense, breathe deeply. Inhale to the count of six, pause for a second and then slowly exhale.
- Laugh. Humor is a great way to relieve stress. Laughter releases endorphins — natural substances that help you feel better and maintain a positive attitude. Studies suggest laughter may lower blood pressure, boost the immune system and increase circulation as well.
- Let go. Take responsibility for your tasks, but don’t worry about things you can’t control.
So how about you? Are you ready to look stress straight in the eye and tell it to leave? You should be. After all, without stress you will be more productive, happier and healthier. And who doesn’t want that??