Stress and your teeth

December 16, 2002

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? Too busy preparing for the holidays to listen to your body? You're not alone.

More than 17.6 million Americans report that the holidays are their most stressful time of year. Dentists routinely see oral symptoms of stress exacerbated by increased cases of oral facial pain, jaw pain, herpes outbreaks (cold sores) and temporomandibular disorders (TMD).

"At the first sign of oral pain or infection, it's important to see your dentist," says Peter Bastian, DDS, MAGD, spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry, an organization of general dentists dedicated to continuing education. "These symptoms may be your mouthÕs warning signs for more serious health risks."

Dentists know that stress and stress-related disorders including mental illnesses such as depression are contributing factors - either directly or indirectly - to heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, accidental injuries, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide - all leading causes of death in the United States according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

After a thorough examination and diagnosis of oral problems and screening for a linked stress-related disorder, dentists can help patients by referring them to a medical specialist.

"The 'team treatment' between dentist and medical specialist ensures both oral and overall problems are being treated and that any medications prescribed do not interfere with each other and inhibit recovery," explains Edward Grace, DDS, MA, FAGD, co-author of an article on stress-related disorders that appears in the November/December 2002 issue of General Dentistry, the peer-reviewed scientific journal of the Academy.

"It's hard for most people to identify how much stress they're experiencing and to what degree it's affecting their body until they get sick," says Dr. Bastian. "Regular six-month dental check-ups are a first-line of defense for detecting stress-related disorders early."

One out of every four American adults suffers from oral facial pain.

Left untreated, toothaches and headaches can interfere with vital functions such as eating, talking and swallowing.

Academy of General Dentistry

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