Employers Advised to Combat Stress to Protect Oral Health

Dentistry Today

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New research reveals that 28% of British adults turn to sugar when they’re stressed, according to the Oral Health Foundation. And with half of workers reporting feeling stressed in their jobs, the organization is calling on employers to do more to help combat stress and offer more support to their employees to maintain good oral health.

According to the study, those who are employed are up to 28% more likely to binge on sugar than those who are out of work. The study also suggests that office workers are the most likely to eat sugary foods and drinks, at 32%, as a result of stress. Senior professionals like doctors, lawyers, and accountants also are at higher risk (31%).

“Comfort eating” has been seen as an excuse to consume unhealthy sugary and fatty foods, the Oral Health Foundation says. Yet recently, research has indicated that comfort eating actually is hormone-related and fueled by the body’s biological response to stressful situations. When put under stressed, the body releases a hormone called cortisol that increases the appetite.

Once ingested, fat and sugar-filled foods seem to have a feedback effect that dampens stress-related responses and emotions. These foods really are “comfort” foods in that they seem to counteract stress, and this may contribute to people’s stress-induced craving for those foods, the Oral Health Foundation says. 

“Ultimately, it is to the employer’s benefit to tackle unhealthy comfort eating as a result of stress, especially as it is happening on work premises so frequently,” said Dr. Nigel Carter, OBE, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation, who believes business need to be more proactive when it comes to combatting the effects of stress on employees. 

“Desk snacking, communal treat tables, and vending machines, often filled with sugary foods and drinks, are the biggest contributors to the problem. This is causing oral diseases such as tooth decay, as well as wider conditions like diabetes and obesity,” Carter said. 

“It is important to encourage healthy eating and to develop a more tooth-friendly culture in the workplace. Snacks such as cheese and nuts are better than sugary treats. Milk and water is a great substitute for juices and fizzy drinks, while reducing the amount of sugar added to tea and coffee can make a big difference,” Carter said. 

“By helping employees look after their oral health, the workforce will not only be healthier, they will be happier too. Importantly, it will reduce absenteeism for oral health issues, which has become a growing issue in recent years,” said Carter.

The Oral Health Foundation reports that 15% of people have taken sick leave in the last two years due to an oral health problem, equating to businesses in the United Kingdom losing 3.6 million hours of labor each year and £52 million for the economy. 

“Stress in the workplace can be difficult to avoid, but with good provisions in place and proactive measures from employers, the effects of stress can be limited,” said Carter. 

“By encouraging employees to look after their oral health, and to have tooth-friendly workplace snacks, not only will employers have a happier workforce but also a healthier, more productive one too. It is also important to allow employees to attend regular dental checkups. All these measures will reduce unforeseen absenteeism in the future,” said Carter.

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