It’s widely known that stress takes a toll on our bodies, but what effect does stress have specifically on your oral health?
In addition to the many ways stress affects our entire body, the teeth, mouth, jaw, and gums can be seriously affected. Understanding how stress affects the mouth is an important way to proactively head off these potential problems by keeping our stress level low and to bring awareness to the fact we are stressed even if we don’t realize it by knowing what signs to look for in the mouth.
Focusing on lowering your stress in general is going to be helpful in many ways, particularly for your mouth. Here are some conditions to watch for that can be related to stress.
Although it is not known exactly what causes canker sores, there is agreement that stress can make a person more likely to struggle with them. These small white spots show up in the mouth, sometimes in pairs or larger numbers, and can cause a lot more discomfort than their small size would indicate. When you have canker sores present, try limiting spicy food or highly acidic foods in general to keep pain to a minimum. Most canker sore usually lasts 7 – 10 days.
Caused by the presence of the herpes simplex virus, cold sores or fever blisters appear on or near the lips. It isn’t possible to know when a cold sore will appear but many believe that stress or highly emotional times can trigger a sore to appear. Like canker sores, cold sores usually last 7 – 10 days, but unlike canker sores, cold sores can be spread and therefor treatment and precautions should be taken.
Clenching or grinding the teeth is known as bruxism and is believed to be due to stress. People struggling with bruxism may not even be aware of what they are doing. By definition, clenching occurs when you press your upper and lower teeth tightly together and grinding happens when you rub your teeth back and forth against each other.
After an extended period of time of clenching or grinding, people may experience jaw pain, jaw popping, earaches, headaches which can be due to problems with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This joint connects your skull to your lower jaw. TMJ pain can become severe and may even eventually damage the joint to the degree that surgery is required to repair it.
The goal is to stop the bruxism before it becomes a severe problem. Often your dentist will see broken teeth or teeth that have been ground down due to grinding. A nightguard may be recommended to help keep the teeth from pressing together while sleeping and relaxation techniques will be encouraged for minimizing clenching during the day.
Missed Brushing & Flossing
During times of high stress it can be easy for the standard oral care habits to drop off or be overlooked. A person may also find they are eating or drinking in ways that are less optimal for oral health as well. The trick is that putting your oral health in jeopardy due to your stress can cause additional mouth problems that will require attention and potentially cause new reason for stress. Keeping your healthy habits in tact is an important part of getting through the stressful time. Focusing on the positive feelings that come from taking care of ourselves can help motivate you to stay committed to your program.
Ultimately your stress level plays a role in many aspects of your health and your mouth is not exception. Finding ways to lower your stress level and reminding yourself of the importance of self care at all times will help you avoid these conditions. It is important to always talk with your dentist if you see early signs of these conditions and share any relevant information about your stress level.
Changing Lives, One Smile at a Time
Dr. Randall Burba is an AACD accredited dentist, practicing in Salem, MA. He considers himself an artist – with teeth and beyond! He often paints, draws and has a passion for woodworking. Follow Burba Dental Partners on Twitter and Facebook.