With so much uncertainty surrounding the global COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to get a little stressed and worried. Self-isolation during the COVID-19 quarantine doesn’t exactly help, either. But dentists and doctors are warning that letting stress and depression escalate can not only have negative effects on your mental health, but can also negatively affect your oral health.
When we experience stress or anxiety, our bodies produce more of a chemical called cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone responsible for our “fight or flight” reflex during times of high stress, and while it’s released by the body to protect us, it can cause damage such as inflammation in the process.
Inflammation may not seem that concerning, but Dr. Martin Abelar of San Diego, California, says it can be especially damaging to your oral health.
“Inflammation is bad news for the body, but especially for the gums,” says Abelar. That’s because inflammation at the gumline can let in harmful bacteria that cause gingivitis and periodontitis. But it doesn’t stop there, either, says Abelar.
“That bacteria at the gumline can enter the bloodstream and travel elsewhere in the body, worsening medical conditions like diabetes and cancer, and causing new problems like high blood pressure and stroke,” he says. “It has even been recently linked to Alzheimer’s disease.”
This is especially bad news, as COVID-19 has been found to take a particularly dangerous toll on people with diabetes and other medical conditions.
Other problems incurred by excessive stress from COVID-19 and the quarantine include poor oral hygiene habits due to depression, and the inability to be seen by dentists and doctors in some areas.
“Many clinics are operating on an emergency-only basis and are not taking patients for routine care. This can be detrimental to your oral health,” Abelar says.
Abelar says the pandemic and quarantine are the perfect time to ramp up your oral care efforts, not decrease them.
“You are home, you have extra time on your hands. It’s a great time to brush after every meal and add some steps to your oral health routine,” he says.
Those steps may include flossing once or twice a day, using a tongue scraper, and using mouthwash.
“Take advantage of that boredom and use it to get your mouth in shape,” Abelar says. “That way when you’re ready for your next exam, you’ll have nothing to fear in the dental chair.”