Students: Hitting the Books May Hurt Your Teeth
Behavior changes induced by academic stress may cause gum inflammation, temporomandibular disorder (TMD) symptoms and bruxism for some college students.
During exam weeks, students often pull all-nighters, sleep less, increase caffeine and nicotine intake, neglect healthy eating habits and experience high stress levels, which reduces saliva flow. "The emotional and physical factors involved in studying for exams often force students to abandon their healthy oral hygiene habits," says Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson J. Nick Russo, DDS, FAGD.
Also, the academic pressures students place on themselves will subconsciously surface, explains Dr. Russo, who treats many students for stress-related facial pain. "Sometimes, your roommate may be the first person to identify your bruxism problem because your tooth grinding keeps them up at night."
In a study investigating academic stress and its effect on gum health, participants' gums were assessed four weeks before final exams and on the last day of the exams. Researchers found 23 percent of students developed severe gingivitis (gum inflammation) in relation to at least one formerly healthy tooth throughout the examination period. Researchers also noted that within one day, students were able to remove nearly all plaque accumulated during the 21-day experiment.
Luckily, cramming for exams and ignoring oral hygiene habits is not a long-term behavior. "Academic stress shouldn't take a toll on your oral health," says Dr. Russo. Find ways to relax during stressful periods and pamper your teeth after your exams, suggests Dr. Russo. Return to a normal oral hygiene regimen and schedule a dental cleaning and checkup.
Is stress taking a toll on your mouth? If you have one or more of these symptoms, you may be have a temporomandibular disorder:
Sore jaw, especially in the morning
Clicking sound or difficulty when opening and closing mouth
Locked or stiff jaw when talking, eating or yawning
Sensitive teeth Ear pain
Updated: March 2007