Expert Opinions

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Does worrying make my gum disease worse?

C.P., West Sand Lake, NY

Robert Genco, D.D.S., Ph.D., distinguished professor and chair, SUNY Buffalo School of Dental Medicine, recently completed a study that showed that people who worry a lot--particularly those with money woes--are at greater risk for severe periodontal disease (Journal of Periodontology, 7/99). We asked Dr. Genco to elaborate. Here's what he had to say.

"We found that people with high financial strain and poor coping skills--that is, those who denied their problems--had the worst gum disease. People who were stressed and coped well, on the other hand, weren't at increased risk. Our study adjusted for other risk factors, such as age, smoking, diabetes, and oral hygiene. While those under stress do tend to go to the dentist less often, they also appear to have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva, which lowers immunity. Recognizing that stress can contribute to gum disease is an important step toward better oral health."

What does Dr. Genco advise for someone who is highly stressed? "Whether you are stressed about money, loss of a loved one, or family problems, be especially vigilant about brushing and flossing," he advises. "Watch for early signs of gum disease, such as bleeding gums, and see your dentist at least twice a year. In addition, exercise goes a long way in reducing the effects of stress. So does a good diet. The medical literature is also very clear on the importance of good social support. If you're taking care of someone with Alzheimer's, for example, make sure you get relief. These simple measures can go a long way in relieving stress."

For more information, see the American Academy of Periodontology Home Page at:

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