It’s been a stressful few weeks for me and my family due to a home sale and move. While things are finally calming down, I was surprised how much I suffered physically due to the stress and lack of sleep. My skin broke out and I’m sure everything I ate went straight to my thighs. But I was surprised what happened to my mouth. I developed a canker sore on the back of my tongue. It was so painful that I had to stop wearing my Invisalign aligners for two days since the bottom aligner was constantly rubbing against it.
Luckily for me, the canker sore went away on its own after a few days of healthy eating and a a couple of nights of decent sleep. But it got me thinking about how stress can affect your oral health.
There are a lot of misconceptions about canker sores. First, they are NOT the same as cold sores, though cold sores can also appear due to stress. Instead, a canker sore is a type of ulcer inside the mouth, on the gum, on the tongue, or even in the upper throat. They are NOT contagious, unlike cold sores which are. If you have a large canker sore or a few of them, you may also experience fever and swollen lymph nodes.
At least 10% of the population gets canker sores, and women are more often affected than men. About 30-40% of people with recurrent canker sores have family members who also get canker sores. That’s true of my family, and my daughter seems to have one most of the time, poor thing.
No one knows why people get canker sores. For me, I get them when I’m emotionally stressed, not getting enough sleep, or am getting sick. Some people get them as a reaction to spicy or acidic foods. If you have an autoimmune disease, you may be more susceptible to getting canker sores. Sometimes braces or dentures can cause them, too.
Treating canker sores
There are many products on the market that treat canker sores or help relieve the pain. I find it helpful to dip a cotton swab into hydrogen peroxide (the kind for first aid, not the kind for coloring your hair) and dabbing the canker sore with the wet swab. The peroxide will bubble on the sore, which may help it start healing. It’s rather nasty tasting, but I find it helps.
Some physicians recommend sucking on zinc gluconate lozenges or using a sage and chamomile mouthwash. Others recommend using a toothpaste that doesn’t contain sodium lauryl sulfate as it can cause canker sores in some individuals.
According to WebMD, stress caused an increase in dental plaque, bleeding gums, and gingivitis in a study of caregivers of dementia patients who were under a lot of stress. WebMD also cited a study showing that depressed patients have twice the risk of an unfavorable outcome from gum disease treatment compared to those who aren't depressed.
Now, I’m not sure if it was the stress and depression causing oral health issues or if stressed out people were less likely to have the time, desire or energy to brush and floss regularly. However, I can personally attest to a time I was very stressed out at college, and my gums started bleeding and receding. My gut feeling is that it’s a combination of factors – not taking care of your oral hygiene and stress affecting your body.
Bottom line: if you can avoid stress, you’ll have a healthier and happier mouth!
How does stress affect your oral health?
Disclosure: I’m a member of the Invisalign Teen Mom Advisory Board. I’m receiving complimentary treatment from Invisalign, but all opinions and experiences expressed are my own.