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Franklyn Alexander, DDS
General & Cosmetic Dentistry

Patients Choice Winner 2016

How Stress Can Affect Oral Health

These days, it seems like everyone’s stressed out about one thing or another. You probably know that chronic stress has some serious negative health effects. You may not realize, however, how much your anxiety affects your oral health. It’s connected to your full body health in many ways, so let’s look at ways that stress and dental health intersect.

Canker Sores

Canker sores, or mouth ulcers, are small sores that appear in the mouth. They can be due to injury or irritation, like a rogue toothpick or sharp potato chip, but they can also show up seemingly unprovoked during times of- you guessed it- stress and anxiety. Canker sores may be slightly painful and irritating, but they usually go away on their own within 10 to 14 days. However, if you’re getting them often it’s a good idea to examine what’s going on in your life at the time and try to find ways to lower your stress levels. In the meantime, you can usually find some relief with over-the-counter topical medications while the sore is healing.


Grinding teeth is known as bruxism, and it’s very common among adults- many people do it in their sleep or during the day without realizing it. Although it can be caused by problems such as misaligned teeth or sleep disorders, stress is a common factor in people who grind or clench their teeth. Bruxism can result in cracked or broken teeth and exacerbation of jaw disorders or TMD. If you notice a reoccurring pain or tense feeling in your jaw and neck, flatness to the tips of your teeth, or if a loved one hears you grinding your teeth in your sleep, see your dentist to make sure you haven’t already damaged the structure of your teeth or jaw. A dentist will also be able to give you tips on how to relax your teeth and jaw during the day, and may suggest a mouth guard for sleeping if you seem to be grinding your teeth during sleep.

TMD or Temporomandibular Disorder

Bruxism and constant clenching of the jaw can contribute to TMD, a condition characterized by a malfunction of one or more parts of the jaw. Symptoms of TMD include facial or jaw pain, especially when eating or chewing, clicking or popping in the jaw when opening or closing your mouth, jaws temporarily locking open or shut, or just a general feeling that your top and bottom jaws aren’t quite fitting together correctly. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, your dentist will be able to tell you if it’s TMD related and provide care or advice to help resolve your symptoms.

Dry Mouth

It can be caused by certain medications or dehydration, but if you know these aren’t a problem for you and you feel like your mouth is always dry, stress may be the answer. Severe anxiety or chronic panic attacks divert blood sugar, oxygen and energy to the heart, lungs, and large muscles in the ‘fight or flight’ response- this process results in dry mouth, and is also why many people report a tingly feeling in the hands and/or feet during extreme stress. Saliva is your body’s natural defense against bacteria in the mouth; it washes away food particles and debris, and keeps bacteria from settling in to any nooks and crannies in your mouth. When saliva flow is lessened, harmful bacteria get a chance to hang around and start producing cavity-causing acid. While working on getting your stress levels under control, sip on water throughout the day to help keep your mouth clean and avoid sugary drinks like juice or soda.

One Last Word

During times of stress, we tend to overlook seemingly small parts of our daily routine- like brushing or flossing- and concentrate on the bigger picture. It’s important not to let up on your everyday oral care habits, especially during times of anxiety as you’re more susceptible to health problems when your stress levels are at their highest.