Today, stress has become an integral part of our life. It has become next to impossible to live a hustle free and a stress-free life.
Have you ever thought that an emotional activity like stress could have adverse effects on the oral cavity?
Stress and anxiety play a prime role in causing dryness of the mouth which is also known as xerostomia in clinical terms.
Dry mouth is a condition where the salivary production reduces and makes the mouth dry and unclean. This condition becomes a host for oral bacteria and leads to further dental problems.
You must have experienced dryness of mouth at times when you were under an immense amount of stress. But did you ever pay attention to it?
Well, let’s dive into the article and gain some information about this relationship between stress and dry mouth and try to avoid it in our lives to live healthily.
Dry mouth, clinically known as Xerostomia, is an oral condition associated with a change in the composition and production of saliva in the mouth leading to dryness of the mouth.
There are many causes of xerostomia, but stress and anxiety have proven to be a significant contributing factor to this oral condition. (1)
Anxiety and dry mouth connection
Stress is a type of body’s natural defense mechanism against fear, challenges, and danger. When a person suffers from anxiety, the body flushes with increased hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.
This phenomenon is referred to as the Flight or Fight mechanism. Sometimes such an unpleasant and unstable state leads to nervous breakdown, somatic complaints or rumination.
Besides the emotional and hormonal load, stress also affects the chemical reactions of the body. One of which is the regulation of the salivary flow.
The patient under stress usually experiences reduced salivary flow, mouth breathing and dryness of the mouth. (2)
Factors contributing to stress-induced dry mouth
Although dry mouth is an effect of stress, there are plenty of other contributing factors that may worsen the condition. Some of the common elements are:
Dehydration is one of the common symptoms of stress and anxiety. It can also occur at times of fever, vomiting or even insufficient blood flow.
Excessive dehydration often causes dry mouth. At this time, it is advised to drink plenty of water and keep yourself hydrated.
Side effect from a medication
Sometimes, medicines like anti-depressants or anti-psychotics that are used to treat stress and anxiety related syndromes may have a side effect on the salivary flow and production. As a result, they may cause dry mouth.
Acid reflux during stress
Acid reflux is commonly experienced during a stressful situation or panic attack. These reverted acids in the mouth can affect the salivary glands and impair its functions, leading to xerostomia.
A shift of body fluids
During a stressful episode, the body adapts the fight or flight mechanism, during which it shifts the body fluid to areas that are in dire need of it like the extremities. In such situations, the patient may feel the dryness of mouth.
Heavy breathing through the mouth
Mouth breathing is often used a coping mechanism to recover from a stressful situation to calm the body reflexes.
Breathing from the mouth naturally absorbs the saliva in the mouth and leaves the mouth dry.
What happens in the mouth when there is less or no saliva production?
Saliva is an essential part of the oral cavity. It keeps the oral tissues moist all the time; it helps in clearing away of any food particles left in the mouth and reduces the accumulation of oral bacteria.
When saliva production is reduced due to stress or anxiety, it increases the risk of cavity formation.
One of the significant functions affected during reduced salivary flow is an acid attack on the tooth surface, due to increased bacterial load in the mouth.
Decreased saliva also impairs its property of providing disease-fighting substances to the oral tissues; hence the mouth becomes susceptible to oral infections. Pregnant patients become more prone to periodontal diseases. (3)
Associated symptoms of dry mouth
Dry mouth, if not treated appropriately, may lead to many dental problems and patient discomfort.
Some of the common symptoms associated with dry mouth may include, a constant sore throat and hoarseness of voice and nasal passages.
Lack of moisture in the oral tissues may lead to a burning sensation of the mouth that may affect the eating habits of the patient.
Due to excessive dryness, the patient may also experience trouble in speaking and swallowing food. (4)
How can you treat it?
Treatment of xerostomia depends on the cause of the condition.
- In the case of dehydration, drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated is highly recommended.
- Stress and anxiety management is the prime treatment modality. Consultation with a psychologist, or taking a therapy session will help to bring the stress under control and avoid the associated side effects.
- Sometimes, the doctor’s advised breathing exercises can also help to cope up with stress and eventually reduce the dryness of the mouth.
- If the medication used to control stress is causing dryness of the mouth, the concerned doctor can help by regulating the dose or providing an alternative medicine.
- Detecting the cause and maintaining good oral hygiene will help the patient to avoid unnecessary complications and stress. (5)
- A dentist will help to examine and diagnose the exact cause and provide appropriate treatment. In severe cases, a dentist may also prescribe certain salivary stimulants like mucin or pilocarpine to keep the oral cavity moist.
Take away message
Anxiety and dry mouth often go hand in hand. It is essential to manage your stress to avoid any emotional disorder and to protect your oral cavity.
Sugar-free gums also help to stimulate salivary flow. Consult a dentist and ask for various options suitable for your case to relieve dryness of mouth.
Saliva is a prime contributing factor in maintain mouth’s defense mechanism against oral infections and cavity formation.
Management of stress will not only help you to stay a healthy life but also to maintain a healthy oral environment in the mouth.