Stress can cause periodontal disease: study

Stress can take a toll on your teeth, leading to periodontal disease, a scientific review has found.

Stress can take a toll on your teeth, leading to periodontal disease, a scientific review has found.

The report found that 57 per cent of the studies it reviewed between 1990 and 2006 found a strong correlation between stress, distress, anxiety, depression and loneliness, and periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease is caused when bacteria build up between the gum and jaw bone, first leading to gum disease and then invading the bone. The end result is bone loss.

Researchers theorize that cortisol, a hormone produced by stress, can lead to increased destruction of gums and jaw bone, as well asto a suppressed immune system, allowing bacteria to flourish.

Stress also causes people to engage in habits that lead to the disease, such as smoking or eating unhealthy foods, and forgetting to properly clean their teeth and visit dentists, the authors found.

"Individuals with high stress levels tend to increase their bad habits, which can be harmful to periodontal health. They are less attentive to their oral hygiene and may increase their use of nicotine, alcohol or drugs," said Preston Miller Jr., president of the American Academy of Periodontology, in a release.

The authors note that the level of stress has to be high for periodontal disease to set in.

"Problems start when the stress response is inappropriate to the size of the challenge, producing neuroendocrine and biochemical changes that result in significant adverse effects on the proper functioning of the immune system," reads the report.

The findings are published in the August 2007 issue of Journal of Periodontology.

Practise prevention

To prevent periodontal disease, stress reduction is critical, say the report's authors.

"Patients should seek healthy ways to relieve stress through exercise, balanced eating, plenty of sleep, and maintaining a positive mental attitude," said Miller.

Gingivitis, or gum inflammation, is one of the stages of full-blown periodontal disease. In addition to plaque, there are several factors that can increase your risk of developing gum disease, says Health Canada.

They include:

  • Smoking. In addition to increasing your risk of many serious illnesses such as cancer, lung disease and heart disease, smoking also increases your risk of gum disease.
  • Hormonal changes. Women are especially at risk of gum disease during times of hormonal change such as during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause.
  • Nutrition. A poorly-balanced diet can increase your risk of developing gum disease.
  • Medications. Some drugs may increase your risk of gum disease, such as birth control pills and high blood pressure and arthritis medications.