New Research Links Stress to Periodontal Disease

Mast cell combating periodontal disease.

Section of a mast cell where cytoplasm (in yellow) releases granules (in green) in response to inflammation.

Researchers at Tufts University are currently investigating a link between stress and periodontal disease. Based on their finding, researchers concluded that stress can actually regulate gum inflammation, in a phenomenon where the body attacks its own gums in an effort to protect itself from bacteria in the mouth.

Essentially, when bacteria starts to build up around the teeth and gums, they release toxins whose goal is to create more space for more bacteria. Your body, in an effort to fight back, produces immune cells, and when these immune cells increase in number, they inflame the surrounding tissue, which accelerates the disease instead of preventing it.

Stress is connected in two ways. First, there is the behavioral theory. When people are under stress, they tend to take less care of themselves and develop unhealthy habits, including not brushing or flossing regularly, which causes bacteria to build up over time. The second, and perhaps more intriguing theory, is biological. When the body is under stress, it produces the hormone cortisol. When this hormone is produced peripherally in the gums, it causes mast cells to produce more protein, which in turn increases inflammation and progresses the development of gum disease.

Although the findings are still being researched, it opens the door to better understanding the causes and effects of periodontal disease and therapy. To read the article that appeared in Tufts Dental Medicine magazine, click here. For more information on the prevention of periodontal disease, visit the American Academy of Periodontology’s website.

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