Recently, I have seen so many patients burnt out by work and family that I feel compelled, and I mean really compelled, to write about how stress is so destructive to our gums and body.
We ALL have stress. Let’s face it, everyone is stressed out at some point in their lives. So its ok to admit that you feel stressed! The first step is admitting it, you perfectionist-do-it-alls out there!
I get stressed too. As a working mom with two young kids, there are days when I just want to jet off to the Fiji Islands and relax in some chi-chi resort, with spa music playing, and water lapping up my toes, while I sip on my ice green tea mocktail. Very nice... But I digress.
Stress is really awful for the gums. Chronic stress can exacerbate gum disease by increasing the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol in turn depresses the immune system, which leaves the gums and jaw bone more susceptible to bacterial attack. Recent research also shows that stress impairs the body’s immune system directly and prevents it from regulating inflammation.
Furthermore, stressed and depressed people often neglect their oral hygiene. Bacteria is then allowed to flourish in the mouth and it often overwhelms the immune system leading to severe gum disease.
Have you noticed that your gums swell, bleed more, and even break out in boils when you are stressed? It’s a little like breaking out in acne when you are stressed. Your gums are a reflection of how you feel inside.
So it is even more important to visit your dentist or periodontist when you are stressed. Beside conventional gum treatment, your periodontist or dentist will probably recommend some stress-relieving techniques as an adjunct to get back to health.
One of the most reliable and proven methods would be meditation and I don’t mean it in the hocus-pocus flaky kind of way. In recent years, the medical, psychotherapy and meditation communities have started to integrate after clinical trials showed that meditation could reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
Part of the mechanism why meditation poses such positive results is the resultant neurological changes to the brain after meditation. The brain is neuroplastic, which means that the brain can rewire to help one emotionally self-regulate.
I meditate. I love meditating. It has gotten me through some highly stressful experiences. It’s not like it took away the problem; it just helped me look at the situation in a different light and helped me come up with a solution. It keeps me centred and calm. Spewing personal anecdotes won’t help convince you, but if that is not enough to convince you, check out more evidence here:
Not sure how to get started? Try the mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Founded by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn, this technique has taken the US and Europe by storm and was recently featured in TIME magazine.
If meditation is not for you, there are other techniques that may help. Here are some of my favourites: cuddling with your loved ones, listening to music, doing yoga… Whatever calms you down.
So if you want to get better from gum disease or just want better health in general, why not just start with the basics? Like my kids would say: "Don’t worry, be HAPPY!"