The topics of mental, physical, and emotional health are frequently discussed as they relate to stress. But what about oral health?
While stress often takes its toll on the mind and body, it can certainly affect your mouth, too.
Here are four oral health concerns to look out for when it comes to stress:
1.Teeth Grinding and Clenching
Teeth grinding and clenching of the jaw can be caused by stress. Also referred to as bruxism, these conscious or subconscious habits can cause tooth pain, jaw problems, headaches, and damaged teeth.
Because grinding usually occurs at night, many times it goes unnoticed. You may be experiencing bruxism if you wake up with tight or sore jaw muscles, sensitivity, or notice any flattened or chipped teeth. Clenching of the jaw can also occur subconsciously while you are under stress, deep in focus, or even angry (whatever it is, it’s probably not worth ruining your teeth over!).
If left untreated, bruxism can cause serious damage to your mouth that may require intensive dental procedures or surgery.
2. Mouth Sores and Infections
Stress causes the body’s immune system to become compromised, making it more difficult to fight off infection. Weakened immunity can trigger dormant viral infections to surface, including:
- Canker sores
- Cold sores (or fever blisters)
- Oral thrush
These infections can occur either inside or outside of the mouth as well as around the lips, typically presenting as blisters or white bumps. These sores can be very uncomfortable, making it difficult for many people to eat, drink, and brush their teeth.
3. Dry Mouth
You’ve likely had a dry mouth from exercising, being nervous before a presentation, or drinking little water during the day. That uncomfortable feeling of not having enough saliva in your mouth can also be caused by stress.
Stress and anxiety can have a significant effect on one’s salivary flow rate. Dry mouth is also a common side effect of many antidepressant medications prescribed to aid in stress management related to anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.
When your mouth is constantly dry, you are bound to experience bad breath, too (meaning your friends will also thank you for keeping those stress levels down!). As the mouth’s first line of defense, saliva is important in fighting bacteria that can cause bad breath and tooth decay.
4. Gum Disease
Stressful seasons of life can cause us to avoid taking proper care of ourselves and even skip parts of our regular health regimens. For our mouths, this means a higher risk of infection.
Lack of regular brushing and flossing allows for a sticky film of bacteria called plaque to build up on the teeth, which over time can cause gingivitis — inflammation of the gums.
Gingivitis is the calm before the gum disease storm.
Untreated gingivitis causes “pockets” in the gums that can lead to gum disease, leaving your gums red, swollen, and tender.
When the body’s stress hormone levels are high, your mouth is also more susceptible to these infections as the effectiveness of the immune system is reduced.
Keeping Your Mind and Mouth Healthy
If you notice that stress is causing issues with your mouth, try to pinpoint what may be triggering that stress. If your stress is ongoing or extreme, you may consider seeking help from a behavioral health specialist.
In addition to regular oral hygiene, identifying stressors and learning how to manage them is key in keeping both your mind and your mouth healthy.