Your neck, shoulders and back may get tight. You may have nagging headaches. Your stomach may churn or feel like lead. It’s a whole body experience. And according to a new study in the International Journal of Dental Hygiene, it affects your mouth’s periodontal tissues – the gums – as well.
Researchers examined a group of twenty healthy dental hygienists, both during and after a “major exam period,” looking specifically at the levels of inflammation markers in the gingival crevicular fluid and cortisol in the saliva. They found that during the exam period, when stress levels were highest, the participants also had more dental biofilm (plaque) and inflamed gums – conditions that elevate the risk of caries (cavities) and gum disease. Notably, these conditions reversed after the exam period.
The simple fact: while acute/temporary stress can cause short term problems, chronic/long-term stress paves the way for bigger and more serious problems down the road, dental or otherwise. (For lots of excellent info on this topic, read Robert Sapolsky’s classic book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.)
And thus, it is vital that we do all we can to reduce or eliminate chronic stress. The hows, of course, differ for each person. For instance, some find exercise like yoga, tai chi or walking to be helpful. Others prefer meditation or prayer. Some work with counselors or therapists, while others adjust their priorities to make time for hobbies or spending more time with loved ones. And improvements in diet are generally a big help for all, especially reduced consumption of sugar, caffeine and industrially processed foods.
The main thing is to find what works for you so you can get the best of chronic stress before it gets the best of you.
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