Students: Hitting the books may hurt your teeth

Behavior changes induced by academic stress may cause gum inflammation, temporomandibular disorder symptoms and bruxism for some of the 14 million students expected to enroll in college.

During exam weeks, students often pull all-nighters, sleep less, increase caffeine and nicotine intake, neglect healthy eating habits and undertake high stress levels, which reduces saliva flow. “The emotional and physical factors involved in studying for exams often force students to abandon their healthy oral hygiene habits,” says J. Nick Russo, DDS, FAGD, president-elect of the Academy of General Dentistry.

Also, the academic pressures students place on themselves will subconsciously surface, explains Dr. Russo, who treats many students for stress-related facial pain. “Sometimes, your roommate may be the first person to identify your bruxism problem because your tooth grinding keeps them up at night.”

A recent study investigated academic stress and its effect on students’ periodontal health. Participants’ gums were assessed four weeks before the exam and on the last day of the exam. Researchers found 23 percent of students developed a severe gingivitis in relation to at least one formerly healthy tooth throughout the examination period. Researchers also noted that within one day, students were able to remove nearly all plaque accumulated during the 21 day experiment.

Luckily, cramming for exams and ignoring oral hygiene habits is not a long term behavior. “Academic stress shouldn’t take a toll on your oral health,” says Dr. Russo. Find ways to relax during stressful periods and pamper your teeth after your exams, suggests Dr. Russo. Return to a normal oral hygiene regime and schedule a dental cleaning and check up while home for the holidays.

Is stress taking a toll on your mouth? If you can answer yes to one or more of these questions, you may have a stress-related symptom that could lead to a temporomandibular disorder:

  • Earache without infection
  • Sore jaw, especially in the morning
  • Clicking sound or difficulty when opening and closing mouth
  • Locked or stiff jaw when talking, eating, yawning
  • Sensitive teeth when no other dental problems can be found

Source: AGD Impact, Aug./Sept. 98, newsmagazine of the Academy of General Dentistry

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