Excess stress may give you a headache, a stomachache, or just a feeling of being “on edge.” But too much stress could also be doing a number on your mouth, teeth, gums, and overall health.
The potential fallout from stress and anxiety that can affect your oral health includes:
- Mouth sores, including canker sores and cold sores
- Clenching of teeth and teeth grinding (bruxism)
- Poor oral hygiene and unhealthy eating routines
- Periodontal (gum) disease or worsening of existing periodontal disease
So how can you prevent these oral health problems?
Canker sores — small ulcers with a white or grayish base and bordered in red — appear inside the mouth, sometimes in pairs or even greater numbers. Although experts aren’t sure what causes them — it could be immune system problems, bacteria, or viruses — they do think that stress, as well as fatigue and allergies, can increase the risk of getting them. Canker sores are not contagious.
Most canker sores disappear in a week to 10 days. For relief from the irritation, try over-the-counter topical anesthetics. To reduce irritation, don’t eat spicy, hot foods or foods with a high acid content, such as tomatoes or citrus fruits.
Cold sores, also called fever blisters, are caused by the Herpes simplex type 1 virus and are contagious. Cold sores are fluid-filled blisters that often appear on or around the lips, but can also crop up under the nose or around the chin area.
Emotional upset can trigger an outbreak. So can a fever, a sunburn, or skin abrasion.
Like canker sores, fever blisters often heal on their own in a week or so. Treatment is available, including over-the-counter remedies and prescription antiviral drugs. Ask your doctor or dentist if you could benefit from either. It’s important to start treatment as soon as you notice the cold sore forming.
Stress may make you clench and grind your teeth — during the day or at night, and often unconsciously. Teeth grinding is also known as bruxism.
If you already clench and grind your teeth, stress could make the habit worse. And, grinding your teeth can lead to problems with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), located in front of the ear where the skull and lower jaw meet.
See your doctor and ask what can be done for the clenching and grinding. Your dentist may recommend a night guard, worn as you sleep, or another appliance to help you stop or minimize the actions.
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