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Oral Health Buzz

Stress in Children and the Oral Health Affects

Donna M. Rounsaville, RDH,BS

Stress is a common problem in today's society. Stress is a reaction to the demands placed on us and our ability to cope with them. It can come from external sources, such as work, school, family and friends, but it can also come from within; expectations and anxieties that overwhelm us. Stress can affect anyone, even children.

Triggers and Symptoms

Stress in children can be triggered by numerous things: world events, natural disasters, war, parental financial worries, a broken family through death or divorce, separation anxiety as a preschooler and academic and social pressures as a teenager. These triggers can elicit a physical response in children that can affect their oral health.

According to the American Psychological Association, stress in children may be evidenced by changes in behavior. The signs to look for are:

  • Irritability or moodiness.
  • Lying, bullying or defiance.
  • Abandoning longtime friendships for a new group of peers.
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches.
  • Sleeping less or more than usual.
  • Sudden changes in eating habits.
  • Unhealthy or regressive habits.

Oral health can be compromised by stress on many levels. If a child's family has experienced death or divorce, economic status may be affected as a result. This could lead to a lack of both preventive and curative dental care during the critical years when teeth are forming and erupting. Eating habits might change and allow for unhealthy and sugary food choices that will lead to a higher rate of dental decay. Finally, a child could also begin or revert back to coping habits that will negatively affect the teeth, such as thumb-sucking or bruxism.

Negative Effects of Stress

Dental decay is the most prevalent childhood disease in society today. It can lead to pain, multiple dental visits for fillings and even abscesses that result in extractions. Also, missing or misaligned teeth are embarrassing for children, especially teens. Studies have shown that children who grow up in socio-economically challenged families have a disproportionate rate of dental caries. The results of these studies indicate that stress from these situations increases the amount of salivary cortisols and cavity-forming bacteria in the mouth. Both these variables will compromise developing dentition. These are key indicators that stress triggers physiological mechanisms that can compromise oral and overall health.

Parents: Be Vigilant

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of stress is the first step to coping with it. Parents and guardians must understand that neglect will only exacerbate the problem. Here are some ways to manage your child's stress:

  • Encourage adequate sleep and a healthy diet.
  • Spend quality time with your children every day.
  • Talk about the causes of your child's stress.
  • Schedule wellness visits to the doctor and follow-up visits to the dentist.
  • Prepare your children for their doctor and dentist visits.
  • Encourage older children to keep a journal.
  • Seek help from a school counselor or mental health professional.

Stress in children can be diminished and controlled. If parents and guardians recognize the signs and take measures to help, children will be happier and healthier. Oral health is directly related to overall health in a child. In addition to regular wellness visits to the doctor, regular visits to the dentist and proper oral hygiene will help your child to succeed and gain confidence. All this translates into a lower stress level for your child.

Learn more about stress and its affect on oral health in the Colgate Oral Care resources.

Source: N/A

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