Is Holiday Stress Wrecking Your Smile?

Is Holiday Stress Wrecking Your Smile?

Holiday joy often arrives with stress. After all, you’ve searched for and wrapped “just the right gift” for each family member. The house is drop-in-guest spotless and decorated so tastefully that Martha Stewart would want a selfie in your living room. Guests! Your in-laws arrive Thursday to be followed by your brother and his new gluten-free girlfriend. And do you have enough extra coats for these relatives who think December in Albuquerque is like Palm Springs?

While standing in a grocery checkout queue, your jaw aches up into your ear. You’re grinding your teeth. And what’s that new bump on your tongue? Ugh, a canker sore. A Ramones’ Christmas song blares suddenly over the store’s loud speakers, following a sedate Silent Night. The woman in front of you has a stack of coupons. Your jaw tightens. You love the holidays. The Ramones. You love your family. Reindeer. Lights. All of it! But your teeth are telling you, honey, you are stressed out!

Your Teeth Say You’re Grinding Them Down, Too

While you’re grinding yourself down to make the holidays perfect for everyone, you may be doing the same to your teeth. Bruxism, teeth grinding and jaw clenching, can occur when asleep or awake. It is a common sign of stress, and it’s hard on your teeth. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of bruxism include:

  • Flattened, fractured, or chipped teeth
  • Worn tooth enamel
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Tight jaw muscles and jaw pain that feels like an earache
  • Problems sleeping

Unfortunately, drinking caffeinated and alcoholic beverages only make teeth grinding worse, so that glass of wine you’re dreaming of once you get those groceries unpacked may be counterproductive. Also, smoking makes bruxism worse. But then, smoking makes your health worse all the way around. Another good reason to stop.

Don’t let possible bruxism go on too long. Our dentists can evaluate any indicators of bruxism and whether you have tooth damage or enamel erosion. Sometimes a simple mouth guard for sleeping will help. Of course, getting to the root of the stress is key.

Studies Show Stress Linked to Canker Sores

It should be no surprise that canker sores often show up for the holidays. The small lesions, called aphthous ulcers, are non-lethal warnings that your ignored body is sick of you offering up too little sleep and too much food while prancing around like a reindeer on Red Bull. Although various studies link stress to canker sores, research has identified no single cause. Studies do identify factors that can trigger canker sores:

  • Anxiety and depression. One study in the Journal of Oral Pathology and Medicine found a high correlation between anxiety, depression, and psychological stress with symptoms of recurrent aphthous stomatitis (RAS) or canker sores. Other studies have likewise found stress associated with RAS.
  • Soft tissue injuries. And the injury doesn’t have to be caused by something as dramatic as a broken tooth or dental restoration. Sometimes food as benign as a tortilla chip can poke soft mouth tissue and trigger a canker sore.
  • Biting the inside of your lip or cheek can also trigger an attack. You might do this inadvertently when chewing. Or, if you bite the inside of your cheek when anxious, you may develop canker sores as a result.
  • Spicy, overly salty, and acidic foods. Watch out if you over-do it on satsumas that are popular during the holidays, for the citric acid can make you more susceptible. Other highly acidic foods include pineapples, lemons, grapefruits, fresh figs, tomatoes, and strawberries. A deep dive into the Chex Mix won’t help either.
  • Vitamin or mineral deficiency. You may need to add more iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid to your diet. A balanced diet of dark leafy greens, lots of green vegetables, fish, poultry, eggs, beans, lentils, and nuts help.
  • Medications. Talk to your doctor if you start getting canker sores when on a new prescription to treat cancer, heart disease, hypertension, or inflammation.
  • Being female. Hormonal fluctuations tied to menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause can trigger canker sores.

The good news is that most canker sores hurt for a short time (7 to 10 days) and usually heal completely within three weeks. Simple home remedies can alleviate a lot of your discomfort. Try rinsing your mouth with a solution of 1 t. of baking soda and ½ c. of warm water. While at parties, let ice chips from your drink slowly melt in your mouth against the lesions. No one will know. They’ll think you’re in deep thought.

Over-the-counter and prescription products can also help relieve pain and speed healing. If you’re really miserable, the Mayo Clinic recommends considering products with:

  • Benzocaine
  • Fluocinonide
  • Hydrogen peroxide

Talk to your doctor or make an appointment with one of our dentists for advice on which product may be best for you. And, remember, canker sores inside the mouth are not the same as highly contagious cold sores, which occur outside the mouth and are caused by the HSV-1 virus.

Manage Stress During the Holidays by Giving Yourself a Present

When stress negatively affects your health, including your oral health, you need to act. Don’t wait until the holidays are over. Give this PRESENT to yourself—every day.

  • Pretty Good: Shoot for pretty good instead of perfect. Perfectionism has stolen more holiday joy than the Grinch. Cut yourself some slack. No holiday is perfect.
  • Respect: Respect your time and your energy by politely saying ‘no’ sometimes. If you need a reminder, put on Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” She’ll remind you.
  • Exercise: Walk the dog, swim, do yoga, dance around your house while you clean. Just get moving! You need the endorphins.
  • Sleep: Get enough sleep. Respect your body. Get to bed earlier.
  • Eat One Healthy Meal Daily: You’re going to nosh. It’s the holidays. Taste the treats, just don’t make a meal out of them. Nourish yourself with at least one healthy meal daily. Brush frequently.
  • Nightly Routine: Keep your nightly oral care routine, no matter how tired you are. That means brushing long enough and flossing.
  • Thankfulness: Show people in your life you’re thankful for them. Showing others appreciation and gratitude can change attitudes and lives. And doing so makes you feel better, too.

Happy holidays from all of us at Davis, Gribble, and Hollowwa! We are thankful for the smiles our patients bring us every day.

Author Info

Dr. Connor Hollowwa

Dr. Connor Hollowwa is an Albuquerque native. He graduated from the Albuquerque Academy and went on to receive a BA from Rice University. His Doctorate of Dental Surgery is from Creighton University School of Dentistry. Before joining private practice he practiced at the state-of-the-art Isleta Health Center’s Dental Clinic, providing modern dental care for the members of the Pueblo of Isleta. In his free time he enjoys playing the piano, fly-fishing, golfing, and skiing.