Pandemic Stress Can Impact Your Oral Health
It’s been a rough year-and-a-half in terms of pandemic-related stress. Stress can cause head, neck, and stomach pains, as well as anxiety. Did you know it can impact your oral health, too? Anxiety can distract you from brushing and flossing, which is essential to your oral and overall health. It can even lead to clenching and grinding of teeth, which can damage them. But if you can maintain your oral health and take an active role in reducing your stress, you can combat:
Bruxism (clenching or grinding your teeth): This is a common response to tension or anxiety, and it can lead to jaw or tooth pain. The good news is that occlusal mouth guards, which treat bruxism, are covered for TRICARE Dental Program (TDP) enrollees aged 13 or older. The guard must be used to treat this condition or address a diagnosis other than temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD), which is not covered by the TDP. Occlusal guards are limited to one per consecutive 12-month period.
Gum disease: Inflamed gum tissue is caused by the bacteria in plaque, but stress can contribute to it, according to the National Institutes for Health (NIH). Stress weakens the immune system, making it easier for gum disease to take hold. Signs include red, swollen, sore, and bleeding gums. Gum disease can cause tooth loss, so it’s important to seek treatment for gum disease, which is covered by the TDP.
Cavities: When we’re stressed, we tend to eat unhealthy foods, such as candy and cookies, to boost our moods. But the high sugar levels in these goodies feed the acid-producing bacteria in the mouth. That eats away at teeth to cause cavities. Cavities can lead to toothaches, tooth loss, or even abscesses. The TDP covers fillings to treat cavities.
Canker Sores: Stress also can trigger canker sores. These can form on oral soft tissues, including the insides of the cheeks, the gums, and under the tongue.
Oral Cancer: Stress can sometimes cause us to choose unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as smoking and drinking alcohol, which increase the risk of oral cancer, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Alcohol and tobacco use are the biggest risk factors for oral cancer. Sores that don't heal, lumps on the oral tissues, or even a sore throat can be signs of oral cancer.
The American Dental Association offers resources on stress and oral health, recommending that you:
- Take work breaks during the day
- Find ways to relax, like yoga or meditation
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Limit alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco use
- Exercise regularly
- Develop a routine
- Get enough sleep
- Write down your goals and priorities
- Talk to a counselor