Too much stress affects your whole body, including your mouth, teeth, and gums.
The potential impact includes:
- Mouth sores, such as canker sores and cold sores
- Clenching or grinding your teeth
- Not taking care of your teeth
- Eating a bad diet
- Gum (periodontal) disease or worsening of existing periodontal disease
- Bad habits like chewing your nails, ice, pencils, or other objects
You can prevent these oral health problems, if you know what to do.
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. Experts aren't sure what causes them. It could be immune system problems, bacteria, or viruses. But they do think that stress, as well as fatigue and allergies, can increase the chance of getting them. Canker sores are not contagious.
What to do: To reduce irritation, don't eat spicy, hot foods or foods with a high acid content, such as tomatoes or citrus fruits. Most canker sores disappear in a week to 10 days. For relief, try over-the-counter topical anesthetics.
Cold sores, also called fever blisters, are caused by the herpes simplex 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.
Emotional upset can trigger an outbreak. So can a fever, a sunburn, or skin abrasion.
What to do: Like canker sores, fever blisters often heal on their own in a week or so, but since the virus that causes them can be spread, you should start treatment as soon as you notice the cold sore forming. Medications include over-the-counter remedies and prescription antiviral drugs. Ask your doctor or dentist if you could benefit from either.
Stress may make you clench and grind your teeth -- during the day or at night, and often subconsciously. 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.
What to do: 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.