Stress can physically manifest in a variety of ways, causing upset stomach, rapid heartbeat, insomnia, headaches and even acne breakouts (just to name a few). However, did you know that stress can also affect your mouth? What’s more: your dentist may be able to tell you are stressed just by looking at your mouth during a dental exam. Here, Totowa dentist Dr. Jerry Strauss explains a few of the common ways stress can affect your teeth, gums and mouth.
Canker sores, or tiny ulcers that develop in the mouth, may be triggered by stress. Studies have shown that students have more canker sores than non-students, and they have fewer canker sores during less-stressful parts of the school year (such as breaks or after graduation).
Studies have found that stress can play a role in the development of gum (periodontal) disease or worsen existing conditions. If gum disease progresses to a certain point, it can damage the bone supporting the teeth and lead to tooth loss. Gum disease is also a risk factor for heart and lung disease.
Periods of heightened stress and anxiety can cause teeth grinding or clenching (a.k.a., bruxism), which leads to other problems in the mouth, such as worn tooth enamel, tooth fracture and extreme sensitivity. Some people are not even aware that they grind or clench their teeth until the dentist points out that the tips of their teeth appear flat.
Problems with the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ)
Stress can also strain the jaw muscles, injuring the jaw joint (the temporomandibular joint). Or constant teeth grinding can aggravate the TMJ. A problem with the TMJ can cause severe joint pain, headaches/earaches or a clicking or popping noise when opening the mouth.
What You Can Do About Stress-Related Problems in the Mouth
If you notice your tooth enamel looks worn, you have chronic canker sores or your jaw joint hurts, the first thing to do is to see your dentist for an examination. Once you and your dentist have developed a plan of treatment for the problem, you should concentrate on lowering your stress levels. Many people find they can reduce stress through one or more of the following strategies:
- Regular exercise
- Massage therapy
- Physical therapy
Make sure you are practicing good oral hygiene habits during this period of time. Don’t neglect your teeth or gums, no matter how high your stress levels may be. Continue to brush twice a day, floss once a day and schedule regular professional cleanings.
For more information about oral hygiene or stress-related problems in the teeth or gums, please contact Dr. Strauss at Aesthetic Dental Care of New Jersey. Call or email us today.