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Oral Health Effects of Stress in Children

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

As a parent, you may wonder about the relationship between childhood stress and oral health and if there's anything you can do reduce your child's stress levels. Luckily, we’re here to help you answer your top questions. Stick around, and we’ll cover the relationship between stress and oral health and – and how you can best help your child.

Triggers and Symptoms

All too common in adults and children, stress is a response to external and internal circumstances and our ability to cope with them. Everyday activities, responsibilities at school, home life, or expectations can all be sources of stress.

While stress is a normal part of daily life, too much can harm many long-term health aspects — and your child’s oral health is no exception. Both stress and oral health affect your child’s overall health. Genetics and the environment are the main factors influencing a child’s stress level and ability to manage it.

Because stress describes a mental state, professionals typically diagnose or determine it through a few different measurements. Researchers measure the amount of a hormone called cortisol in people’s bloodstream, while medical or dental professionals may look at your child’s behavior or use questionaries to understand stress levels.

Negative Effects of Stress

Stress has wide-reaching consequences on a child’s body and health. Some are well understood, while the mechanism of others still needs exploring through further research. Understanding the exact underlying mechanisms is less important than helping your child manage their stress.

Dental care is especially important for anxious children. Stress may negatively affect their oral health by:

  • Triggering unhealthy behaviors, such as overeating or consuming overly sugary or acidic foods.
  • Making them less likely to follow proper habits like brushing their teeth twice a day and cleaning between their teeth daily.
  • Increasing the likelihood of infection and other oral health problems.
  • Causing teeth grinding (also known as bruxism), which can lead to jaw issues and TMJ disorders.
  • Decreasing immune response
  • Slowing saliva production, according to the Journal of Dental Research Dental Clinics Dental Prospects.

Many experts, including dental professionals, medical professionals, school counselors, and therapists, are available to help you or your child manage their stress.

Parents: What You Can Do

The right choices for you or your child vary, depending on the cause of stress, age, and other factors. According to BMC Oral Health, those experiencing stress should give special attention to oral healthcare. Additionally, those with related concerns (such as financial worries) can benefit from addressing these issues.

While determining the source (or sources) of your child’s stress can be challenging, there are many options available. Parents have powerful choices at their disposal to set children up for success by preventing stressful situations or teaching them to how to manage their stress in a healthy manner.

Methods to help your child with their stress or avoid associated oral problems may include:

  • Avoiding or limiting situations that trigger or cause stress.
  • Role-modeling healthy behaviors by practicing proper dental care, exercising, eating a balanced diet, and managing their own stress properly.
  • Helping them get enough sleep by setting an appropriate bedtime and keeping a routine around sleep schedules.
  • Ensuring they practice good oral hygiene by brushing their teeth for two minutes twice a day and cleaning between their teeth daily.
  • Talking to them about their stress and developing coping skills to reduce it, such as listening to music, drawing, or taking deep breaths.
  • Scheduling an appointment with their school counselor or medical professional for advice on stress management and referral to specialists.

You have many options available to help your child reduce, manage or even sometimes prevent their stress! Set the stage for success by helping them develop healthy stress-coping methods by role modeling them yourself. You’ve made a great first step by reading up on how stress is related to oral health problems.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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