Canker sores have always intrigued researchers as very little is understood about them and the reason for their occurrence. While some people get canker sores quite often, others remain unaffected most of their lives. However, studies have revealed a couple of risk factors that can lead to canker sores, begging the question: Can stress or anxiety cause canker sores? Let’s find out whether these emotional factors can put you at risk for canker sores and explore some simple ways to prevent them.
What Are Canker Sores?
Cankers sores, or recurrent aphthous stomatitis (RAS), are tiny whitish ulcers that occur inside the mouth along the inner cheek and lip, on the tongue, or even on the gums. Though not contagious, they can be a cause of serious pain and discomfort. The good news is that most of the time they heal on their own.
How Can Stress Cause Them?
Although the exact cause of canker sores has yet to be identified, doctors have been able to understand a few risk factors that can cause them. While some researchers believe that canker sores occur amid hormonal changes or vitamin deficiencies, others surmise that the outbreak has a lot to do with stress levels in an individual.
According to Office on Women’s Health, U.S., women are more prone to get canker sores when they are on their periods. This partially explains a hormonal connection to the development of canker sores.
Meanwhile, various studies have been conducted to explore the relationship between stress and canker sores. There was a small study conducted on people with RAS in which their psychological profiles and salivary cortisol levels were evaluated. (An increase in salivary cortisol levels indicates stress.) Through this study, it was clear that people with canker sores showed a higher level of anxiety and depression than those who were in the control group.
Additionally, a 2018 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dentistry was conducted on 75 individuals and evaluated stress, depression, and anxiety in those with canker sores. It was concluded that stress and depression levels were comparatively higher in those with a history of RAS than those who did not have mouth ulcers at all. Another important finding of this study was that psychological stress acts as a trigger in initiating the development of canker sores.
Finally, according to a study published in the Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, people under stress may accidentally bite their mouth or lips, resulting in canker sores. This could be another possible explanation of the connection between canker sores and stress.
Managing Stress and Anxiety for Canker Sore Prevention
If you have been informed by your healthcare provider that stress or anxiety is the reason behind your canker sores, then the best way of preventing them would be through efficient management of stress.
Here are a few tips that may help you:
- Take deep breaths when you find yourself in a stressful situation. Deep breathing calms you down and improves your focus.
- Practice meditation as it helps you relax your mind and body.
- Exercise daily for at least half an hour to elevate your mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve your overall health and well-being.
If you’re overwhelmed with anxiety or unable to cope with stress by yourself, never hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional.
Even though medical professionals are not very clear about the risk factors or the precise causes of canker sores, there are plenty of treatment options available.
Let’s examine just a few:
- A warm salt water rinse is an excellent DIY solution for canker sores. Just add a teaspoon of table salt to a glass of warm water and then swish the solution in your mouth.
- Products like SmartMouth™ Mouth Sore Activated Mouthwash help relieve the pain, discomfort, and burning sensation caused by stress canker sores.
- Topical gels with hyaluronic acid as their chief ingredient are highly effective in treating mouth sores from stress. Hyaluronic acid in the form of sodium hyaluronate acts as a barrier and coats the ulcer. It also promotes healing while keeping the ulcer hydrated.
- A balanced diet can often help compensate for your nutritional deficiencies. Soft and bland foods are recommended as they will not irritate the stress canker sores.
Though canker sores resolve by themselves, they can be a genuine source of inconvenience. If you find that your ulcer is more than one centimeter in size or keeps coming often, it is recommended that you visit your dentist. Your dentist will be able to identify the most probable cause for your canker sores and help ease your pain and discomfort. (Also, try to refrain from using sodium lauryl sulfate-containing toothpaste because this compound can aggravate the irritation of the ulcer.)
The actual cause of canker sores is not completely understood. However, stress is being hypothesized as one of their most probable causes. If you feel that your canker sores are induced by stress, try to manage your stress levels efficiently. While exercise and meditation can calm you down and relax your mind, you should never shy away from reaching out for professional help in case your stress becomes unmanageable. Simultaneously, you can try medicated mouthwash and gels to treat the sores and ensure faster healing. Be sure to contact your dentist if canker sore outbreaks have become more frequent or more painful.