The stress on college and high school students which is caused by hitting the books can cause gum inflammation, bruxism and the possibility of temporomandibular disorder symptoms (TMJ), says a local dentist.
"The emotional and physical factors involved in studying for exams or writing papers often force students to abandon good dental health regimens," says Terri Tiersky, D.D.S., J.D., a general dentist who practices on Chicago's North Side, and a spokesperson for the Chicago Dental Society. "During exam weeks or when papers are due, many students pull all nighters. Some students get less sleep all the time, while others increase caffeine and nicotine or don't eat as healthy as they should. The result is that saliva flow decreases and leaves teeth less protected."
Dentists also notice that students may not make regular trips to the dentists because they have gone away to school and have not developed a relationship with a dentist at their school. "Plus, many students simply believe they are impervious to health issues and believe they can deal with anything on their own terms," says Dr. Tiersky. "They also don't believe they are susceptible to stresses."
But they are, says Dr. Tiersky, and he cites the following symptoms and their solutions.
Academic stress can take its toll on the gums. "Gums can become red, swollen, tender and can bleed easily," explains Dr. Tiersky. "Some students will develop severe gingivitis. Frequently, it will subside with regular dental care. However, stress reduction exercises, a balanced diet, and plenty of rest can alleviate the effects of stress on the gums."
Some students will brux or grind their teeth in times of stress. "Often a student's roommate detects bruxism first because he or she can be kept up at night by someone who is grinding their teeth," says Dr. Tiersky. "Dentists can make appliances to lessen the damage caused by bruxism, or the strategies mentioned above can work as well."
Temporomandibular joint disorders can cause earaches without infection, sore jaw muscles -- especially in the morning, a clicking sound, difficulty when opening or closing the mouth, or locked or stiff jaw when talking, eating or yawning. "The temporormandibular joint is the hinge that holds the lower jaws to the upper jaw and it's located back near the ears," says Dr. Tiersky. "TMJ disorders often are related to stress but there is no consensus yet on how to deal with these disorders. Surgery is not a good idea. The best strategy is to begin to learn how to deal with stress."
Luckily, says Dr. Tiersky, cramming for exams and papers while ignoring oral hygiene generally is not a long-term behavior. "Academic stress should not take a toll on your oral health," he concludes. "Return to a normal oral hygiene regimen and schedule a dental cleaning and dental exam while at home on break."
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