You might think that maintaining a healthy smile is as easy as brushing and flossing. However, if you’ve been fighting the good fight with regular brushing/flossing and you’re still struggling with your oral health, there might be other issues at play.
We’ve mentioned time and again the impact that your oral health has on your body. Today it’s time to discuss how that connection is a two-way street. You may be doing everything you can to have a healthy smile but still experience frustrating problems like gingivitis or cavities. If that’s the case, it might be time to look at other factors influencing your oral health. Here are four common habits that can prevent a healthy smile.
Sorry to stress you out with this title, but the impact of chronic stress on your oral health cannot be denied. Worrying is common, if you’re human, you probably have something bothering you at this very moment. An unpaid bill, an upcoming meeting, or a strange noise coming from your car engine are all issues that can make you worry. The kind of stress we are discussing, however, is a persistent state of being and one that is unfortunately common among Americans. In these uncertain times, in particular, more people than ever are reporting feeling stressed out nearly all the time, and that is bad news for your oral health.
Stress hurts how your body heals from injury or disease and how it fights off potential infections. If you’ve been working with your dentist to reverse gum disease or prevent tooth decay and you are frustrated with your progress, take a look at your stress levels. Are you in a persistent state of anxiety (not surprising, these days)? Do you feel worn out from worry? You’re not alone. If you feel persistently stressed out, it might be time to figure out ways to reduce that stress. Making lifestyle changes, talking to a professional, or implementing healthier habits like exercise or meditation can all make a difference.
Lack of Sleep
When we say that lack of sleep harms your smile, we aren’t talking about you being tired and irritable. Quality sleep is key to your complete health. When your dentist asks how you are sleeping, they are often checking to see if you have airway issues impacting your breathing (and therefore your body) at night. But lack of sleep can also slow your body’s ability to heal and fight off infection, especially in an area like the mouth, which offers premium conditions for harmful bacteria to thrive. Like chronic stress, a chronic lack of sleep can be a roadblock to progress even if you have been brushing and flossing and attending regular dental check-ups.
Unfortunately, tackling a lack of sleep can almost be harder than reducing stress. After all, we live in an incredibly busy culture where people are encouraged to overwork themselves and put off sleep to finish those to-lists. The aforementioned stress also hurts how you sleep, as it’s hard to get rest when worry keeps you awake at night. Last, those airway issues we mentioned earlier could be sabotaging your sleep even when you go to bed early and get that coveted eight hours. If you have eliminated outside factors and find that you’re still exhausted no matter how much you sleep, your oral health could be impacting your sleep, which then further exacerbates your dental issues. It’s a vicious cycle! To combat the harmful effects that poor rest can cause, you must make quality sleep a priority. Your dentist can help if you believe airway issues are causing a disruption. Reducing stress and putting rest first can also make a difference.
Of all the habits on the list, eating habits are probably the least surprising connection to your body’s oral health. In past articles, we’ve shared how sugary or acidic foods can damage your mouth’s natural protective measures, create safe harbors for harmful bacteria, and generally cause oral chaos. On a deeper level, what you eat can harm your mouth at a physiological level, too.
It’s probably no surprise that many Americans lean heavily on processed foods to get through the day. Those processed foods can be tasty and easy, but they aren’t always oral health allies. In addition to the obvious culprits like candy, soda, and chips, many “healthy” foods are loaded with harmful sugars. They masquerade as health-conscious convenience foods (we’re looking at you, yogurt), but are slowing down your body. This makes you vulnerable to conditions such as diabetes which in turn inhibits your body’s ability to perform at its best from head to toe. That includes your oral health. To help your body help your mouth, try to update your diet to include more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Read the labels on your favorite “healthy” items to discover hidden fats and sugars that could be contributing to your struggles with achieving a healthy smile. Reducing your consumption of hidden sugars will help with cavities and healthier gums, too.
The last common habit that could be harming your oral health is probably the hardest to break: sitting still. A large number of jobs require us to sit in a desk chair for hours on end with very little time available to get up and move. Compounding the problem is the fact that work often takes up a majority of a person’s waking hours and leaves them emotionally exhausted at quitting time. That leads to more sedentary living at home and on days off. Older adults or individuals with mobility issues may also find themselves sitting more often due to perceived limitations in their ability to exercise.
An active body provides a lot of benefits to a person’s complete health. In addition to staving off conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, regular, moderate exercise boosts your body’s healing powers and ability to prevent illness and infections like gingivitis. It’s also worth mentioning that sitting still for long periods often leads to those other unhealthy habits, like eating unhealthy foods or loss of sleep.
While you can take steps like using a standing desk, the best option is simply to move. Whether that means taking walks during your designated breaks or hitting the gym after work for low-impact weight-lifting is up to you. If you are a person with limited mobility, check out exercise plans designed to accommodate your needs. There are many options available that you can adapt to your unique situation.
Talk to Your Dentist About Your Health Habits
As you have probably noticed, many of these common habits feed off of one another. Stress leads to lack of sleep and lack of sleep leads to lack of exercise, for example. As these issues compound, your body—and your mouth—suffer the consequences. Lifestyle changes are not always easy. But they can be managed with small steps that make improvements in your complete health. If you’ve noticed that it has become harder and harder to combat issues like gum disease or tooth decay despite your best efforts, it may be time to examine your lifestyle for common habits like poor diet, lack of sleep, chronic stress, and lack of exercise. If you’d like to discuss this further with a dentist, schedule an appointment with Sierra Smiles. We would love to help!