Woman biting lip with red lipstick

Photo courtesy of Pablo Heimplatz/​Unsplash

You might have a lot of things to say, but it’s possible that your mouth has been trying to talk to you, too — and it’s telling you that you’re definitely stressed out.

Just as a knot in your stomach, disrupted sleep, or a massive pimple can be a sign that your body is under duress, there are a handful of oral indicators as well. And they can happen even if you’re obsessive about brushing night and day. Whenever I see a patient who has flared-up gums — and their oral hygiene and diet is good — usually there’s some stress in their lives that’s caused them to have that change,” explains Karla F. Solis, DDS, of LA Holistic Dentistry.

Whether it’s in the form of bleeding gums, cold sores, canker sores, gingivitis, or teeth grinding, your system has basically pulled the fire alarm. Stress is inflammation, so this is how the body releases toxins,” notes Dr. Solis. It’s our body’s way of saying, Hey! There’s something you need to look at.’” 

For example, canker sores — better known among doctors as recurrent aphthous stomatitis (RAS) — were tied to anxiety in a 2015 study that tested salivary cortisol levels. In another study, students were found to have more dental plaque accumulation and gingival inflammation during exam periods than post-finals. And research in Brazil found that emotional stress was associated with bruxism, AKA teeth grinding and clenching.

What makes deciphering — and addressing — these issues all the more complicated is the fact that they’ll often show up in people who have super-clean eating habits or a regular meditation practice.

Woman pointing and laughing with blue wall background

Photo courtesy of Eye for Ebony/​Unsplash

We live in a pretty toxic environment, so even the patients with the best hygiene at home and the cleanest diet still suffer, because everything in the body’s interrelated,” says Dr. Solis. Sometimes it’s supplements that shift [people] out of their usual state.” (Yes, that daily multivitamin you’ve been trying so hard to take daily might actually be causing your system to re-calibrate.) Another cause — at least if you’re a woman — is your menstrual cycle. Females tend to show a little more inflammation around their moon cycle,” notes Dr. Solis.

How can you figure out if you’ve got a gum problem or a stress problem? The first place Dr. Solis recommends checking is acidity levels in your mouth.

If there’s some sort of bleeding and a pathogen is out of whack in your mouth, it’s usually pH,” she says, adding, It’s a huge factor.” A simple pH saliva test strip will indicate your current range (Dr. Solis suggests doing it first thing in the morning); if it comes back on the acidic side, schedule a dental checkup so that you can sort through next-steps with a professional. (And of course, you should book an appointment with your dentist ASAP if there are any major red flags.)

And while instituting #selfcaresunday might not heal a canker sore overnight, being aware of the stressors in your life — and the ways that they’re affecting you — helps put your health in your own hands. And that’s something to smile about.

Learn more about holistic dentistry from Dr. Solis on Instagram and Facebook.

Articles from The Natural should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult a medical professional.