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Can Stress Affect Oral Health? | Cheeeese

Can Stress Affect Oral Health? | Cheeeese

Stress and its related mental health issues such as anxiety and depression affect us in different ways, from our moods to productivity. The body can handle short-term stress, but chronic or prolonged stress can significantly affect health, especially oral health.


Different studies have shown that most people with depression and anxiety have fair to poor oral health, and over two-thirds of them have a toothache during the period. Such is due to the behavioral and physiological effects of stress and the consequences that come with them. This article looks at all you need to know concerning stress, its effects on dental health, and how to manage the symptoms.


Behavioral effects of stress on oral health

One of the obvious effects of stress and anxiety is a behavior change. Often when depressed and stressed out, a person becomes less concerned with their hygiene, including oral hygiene. Following strict dental routines such as flossing and brushing teeth after meals become difficult. Such neglect sets one up for dental infections, which worsen if a person has an underlying condition awaiting a trigger.


Stress also leads to changes in dietary habits. A usually conscientious person will, under heightened stress, resort to comfort foods such as snacks, candy, and other sugary foods compared to fruits. Besides destroying their overall health, these foods also increase the risk for tooth decay and gum disease.


Physiological effects of stress

On the physiological level, stress increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol. If produced in large quantities, cortisol reduces the potency of the immune system giving way to opportunistic and other previously suppressed oral infections. Studies also mention that high levels of cortisol production trigger protein production in the gums, which causes gum inflammation.


Common symptoms of stress on oral health

A combination of behavioral and physiological effects leads to several side effects on oral health. Here are some of them.

Tooth decay

Foods that stressed people turn to, such as chocolate, sweets, and other sugar-laden foods, create the perfect environment for the growth of bacteria. Stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol also have the same effects.

Stress also causes the body to flush out protective minerals and increases the mouth's acidity. Consequently, it creates a perfect environment for cavity formation and bacteria. Furthermore, inattention to oral hygiene can lead to the buildup of plaques.


Dry mouth

Reduced saliva production can be a direct side effect of stress or the medications for mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Saliva protects the mouth from the growth of harmful bacteria, keeps the teeth moist, and also supplies minerals to the teeth. A dry mouth, therefore, can lead to dental issues such as tooth decay, plaque, and gum disease. Other indirect causes of dry mouth are tobacco and alcohol, which some resolve to cope with stress.


Cold Sores

Cold sores or fever blisters are usually caused by herpes simplex, a virus passed from parent to child. The body's immune system effectively suppresses and keeps the cold sores virus inactive, but stress triggers it as the immune system becomes compromised.


The sores are fluid-filled blisters usually occurring around the lips or lesions at the corner of the mouth. The sores may also appear on the gum, and in situations, they last for five to seven days, they make it difficult for one to floss or brush. An extended period of reduced oral care can cause other dental issues such as gum infections, inflammations, and tooth decay.


Canker sores

Also known as aphthous ulcers, canker sores are small white to grayish spots inside the mouth. They can be in pairs or clustered in large numbers. The sores’ main cause is unknown, however, a compromised immune system and bacteria or various infections are some of its suggested causes. Stress compromises an individual’s immunity hence increasing the chances of getting them. According to dental experts, other possible triggers of canker sores are cheek biting, acidic foods, and overzealous toothbrushing.


Clenched jaws

Tensioning of the jaw and the surrounding muscles occurs when one is angry, anxious, or under severe stress. In the short term, it cushions against injury and pain. However, when prolonged, jaw clenching causes pain around the ears and jaws. Severe or chronic cases lead to difficulty opening the mouth and a clicking noise on the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) when chewing food.


Teeth grinding

It is closely related to jaw clenching and is sometimes defined by the same term, bruxism. However, while clenching occurs when a person is conscious, tooth grinding often happens when a person is asleep or unconsciously during the day. As a result, they rarely know they are doing it unless someone else points it out, making it even harder to deal with.


The wear and tear resulting from tooth grinding is usually significant enough to cause teeth chipping, increased teeth sensitivity, and, in extreme cases, teeth loss. For natural teeth grinders, stress worsens the habit. A combination of tooth grinding and jaw clenching can lead to painful temples.


Gum disease

Numerous scientific studies have found a direct correlation between stress or anxiety and gum diseases; gum diseases become more severe as these negative emotions increase. The first explanation is the neglect of oral hygiene that comes with being stressed out, which might include forgetting a routine dental checkup.


The excessive production of cortisol leads to an increase in the production of proteins in the gums. The amino acids cause an increase in the acidity of the gum leading to an inflammation of the gums. The inflammation, if prolonged, can damage the gum, making it prone to diseases such as periodontitis and gingivitis.


Gum infections might also loosen up the foundation of the teeth, causing tooth loss and even the destruction of the supporting bone. Severe cases can open doors to conditions like chronic colds, autoimmune, and cancer.


How To Fight Effects of Stress on Oral Health

The best way to deal with the effects of stress is to get to the source and eliminate it. Some helpful tips include:


Removing the stressor: It involves locating the main cause of stress in one's life and getting rid of it or moving away from it. It can be a job, a relationship, or a way of life. The limitation of this alternative is that it is not often easy to run away from habits. Besides, we cannot eliminate all stressors of life.

Manage the stress: Stress management coaches have provided a long list of ways to manage stress before it leads to di-stress. Some techniques include yoga, self-reflection sessions, and participating in hobbies or a fun group. The mission is to find what works for you.

Connect with others: Humans are social beings and hence require connections to feel supported. When stressed, finding a sense of community at work, with a faith-based organization, or through organized sport is a great way to manage stress.


How to reduce oral health symptoms of stress

Here are quick tips on how to deal with each of the above effects of stress on dental health:


Teeth grinding: Speak to a dentist about this. Dentists often recommend a fitted night guard that you wear when you sleep to prevent you from grinding. Other techniques can help, such as keeping your teeth apart when not eating.


Gum infection: There are over-the-counter as well as prescription medications. Nonetheless, proper oral hygiene is the only lasting solution to prevent the infection from worsening. Also, seek the advice of a dentist if the condition persists.


Canker sores: They usually heal within a week or less on their own. However, to minimize the irritation, avoid hot and spicy foods and food with high acidities, such as citrus fruits. Some over-the-counter medicines can help numb the irritations, but if the condition persists beyond ten days or keeps recurring, a visit to a dentist is prudent.


Cold sores: They also heal on their own, but since the herpes simplex virus is transmittable, one should seek treatment as soon as the sores appear. On medication, there are non-prescription as well as prescription anti-viral drugs to alleviate the condition. It is necessary to seek medical attention if the condition persists or becomes worrying.



Stress affects our bodies in several ways, from acne to stomach ulcers; reduced productivity to tooth cavity. Since we cannot escape stress in our daily life, the best way to ensure it doesn't lead us to an early grave is to manage it effectively. Watch out for the signs of stress in your life, such as laxity in your hygiene health routine and the above-mentioned oral issues, and remedy them as soon as possible.


Additionally, it is healthy to go for regular dental checks to ensure that there are no underlying issues that stress might trigger later in life. Furthermore, provided one is stressed, it is advisable to visit a dentist even if there are no visible oral effects. It makes it possible to identify early signs before they become significant problems. Remember, prevention is always better than cure, and it is safer to err on the side of caution.


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