Chances are you heard that stress can affect your overall mental and physical health. Sometimes people are surprised to learn that stress also may negatively impact oral health.
For many people, this year has been stressful. If you are experiencing stress, you may want to learn more about some of the common mouth problems caused by stress.
Please be aware that this article is purely for your education and by no means a substitute for professional dental or medical care. If you have concerns, please seek the appropriate care.
For your reference, we compiled this list of five ways stress can directly or indirectly impact your dental health. We hope it helps you realize how stress may affect all areas of your health, including your oral health.
Five Common Mouth Problems caused by Stress
Here are some common mouth problems caused by stress:
Bruxism or Teeth Grinding
Stress is one of the primary triggers of bruxism or grinding the teeth. According to the Mayo Clinic, individuals may unconsciously grind their teeth either while awake or sleeping.
Unfortunately, grinding the teeth may result in wearing down tooth enamel, lost fillings, increased vulnerability to tooth decay, and other damage such as fractured or split teeth. Mild bruxism may be relieved with stress management techniques, but in some cases, you may need to wear a mouthguard during sleep to protect the teeth from damage.
Some symptoms of bruxism:
- A sore or tender jaw from grinding or clenching
- Worn tooth enamel and sometimes tooth sensitivity since the deeper layers may become exposed
- Flattened, chipped, or worn-down teeth
- Fractured teeth
- Damaged fillings or dental work
- Earache or tension headache
- Lack of restful sleep
- Injury from chewing the inner cheek
The New York Times reported that stress contributes to grinding the teeth and clenching the jaw muscles. Often these behaviors are unconscious and unintentional. Experts believe that bruxism originates in the central nervous system. Some find that alternative treatments like acupuncture, yoga, massage therapy, or even botox injections may help.
Others find that wearing a mouthguard protects their teeth from damage and sometimes even trains them to cease grinding. When paired with day-to-day relaxation techniques, a mouthguard may be affordable and highly effective.
Jaw Pain, Tension, or Clenching
In addition to grinding the teeth, someone under stress may clench their jaw muscles. If you do this, you may notice jaw pain, tension, or tenderness. This is often connected to bruxism, but not always. Other symptoms of clenching include tension headaches and facial pain.
Some people find that stress management techniques help them relax, and they clench their jaw less. Different people benefit from different techniques. Some find that daily exercise helps. Others find meditation and breathing exercises help them better manage stress. Whether you respond best to a warm bath or meditation, try to fit a little relaxation into your daily routine. This is even more crucial during stressful times and may even help prevent oral health issues.
Stimulants like caffeine or tobacco may exasperate jaw tension and bruxism. We always urge patients who smoke to quit; this is just one more reason. If you drink caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, energy drinks, or soda, consider limiting them or quitting. Most of these beverages are also acidic and can weaken tooth enamel; limiting them may have additional oral health benefits.
Neglecting Oral Daily Hygiene
Sometimes when people are preoccupied with stressful situations, their priorities shift, and they neglect personal care. For example, they may decide not to floss consistently because they feel too tired at bedtime. Neglecting oral hygiene can lead to gum disease, inflammation, or cavities.
If you are worried or stressed right now, be sure to continue to take care of yourself. Be sure to:
- Brush your teeth twice a day using a soft-bristled toothbrush. Be careful not to brush too vigorously, as sometimes people do when feeling stressed.
- Floss daily to protect your gums from bacteria and inflammation.
- Consider wearing a mouthguard while sleeping if you clench your jaw or grind your teeth.
- Avoid consuming candies or treats between meals. Comfort eating starchy snacks, acidic drinks like wine, or sugary treats can contribute to tooth decay.
In addition to brushing and flossing your teeth as recommended, eat nutritious food, exercise, and prioritize sleep. A healthy body (and healthy mouth) empowers you to better deal with the challenges life brings. When taking care of yourself, you can better care for your family, deal with deadlines or unemployment.
Patients are sometimes surprised to learn that anxiety and stress can contribute to dry mouth. Sometimes this may be a side effect of anti-anxiety medication, antidepressants, or other medications.
Unfortunately, dry mouth is not only uncomfortable; it can increase the risk of gum disease and tooth decay. If you take medications that may cause dry mouth, be sure to remain consistent with your oral hygiene routine, consider sucking on sugar-free candies to stimulate saliva production and stay hydrated by sipping plain water.
Canker Sores, Cold Sores or Aphthous Ulcers
Canker sores or cold sores are blister-like sores on or near the mouth. Usually, the cause is the herpes simplex virus (HSV) types 1 and 2. The virus remains in the body, and the sores may come and go. Outbreaks are sometimes associated with stress or anxiety, according to Harvard Health.
Seek Treatment for Damaged Teeth or Other Dental Health Issues
Sometimes stress creeps up, and over time the teeth become fractured or damaged. If you are experiencing gum swelling, pain, or have damaged teeth, please schedule a dental appointment.
After a thorough examination, your dental care team will identify an appropriate intervention or treatment. In some cases, the tooth may be damaged enough to require restoration or even a root canal. If so, consider hiring an experienced endodontist who specializes in these procedures. We at Ballantyne Endodontics specialize in helping Charlotte-area residents keep their natural teeth, and we help restore health and balance. Call us today for more information or talk with your dentist about making a referral.