The Surprising Ways Stress Can Impact Your Oral Health

Ways Stress Can Impact Oral Health

Stress is a natural emotional response to certain situations and is a regular part of life. However, the impact of stress on physical and mental health has been well documented. Recent research has also indicated that there is a link between stress and oral health.

This article will examine the surprising ways in which stress can negatively impact oral health, such as dry mouth, bruxism, gum disease, canker sores, and bad breath. The effects of stress on oral health can manifest in a number of different ways.

Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is one of the most common occurrences. Dry mouth occurs when salivary glands are unable to produce enough saliva to keep the mouth moist. This can lead to an increased risk of tooth decay and other oral problems.

Bruxism, or teeth grinding, is another common symptom of stress. Bruxism can cause jaw pain, headaches, and worn down teeth. Gum disease is another condition that may be linked to stress.

Stress can weaken the body’s immune system, making it more difficult to fight off bacteria that cause gum disease. Canker sores are painful ulcers that can also be caused by stress. Lastly, bad breath or halitosis can be the result of stress, as it is linked to poor oral hygiene and dry mouth.

Dry Mouth

Severe salivary hypofunction, otherwise known as dry mouth, can be a consequence of prolonged periods of stress, evidenced by an antiquated lack of lubrication in the oral cavity.

Dry mouth can lead to an increased risk of developing tooth decay, as the saliva is unable to properly neutralize the pH balance in the mouth while simultaneously washing away food particles and bacteria.

The acidic environment in the mouth can lead to the degradation of tooth enamel over time and, if left untreated, can eventually lead to cavities.

Additionally, dry mouth can cause discomfort in the mouth, leading to an overall decrease in the quality of life.

Without adequate saliva, the mouth is more susceptible to bacterial infections, as the saliva can no longer serve as a protective barrier.

This can lead to an increased risk of developing periodontal disease, which can further lead to tooth loss.

In order to reduce the effects of dry mouth, it is important to minimize stress levels, as well as to ensure proper oral health hygiene, as this can help to reduce the risk of developing oral health issues.

Bruxism (Teeth Grinding)

Bruxism, which is the involuntary grinding of the teeth, can be caused by increased levels of stress. The grinding of the teeth, which often occurs without the individual even being aware of it, can be a sign of an underlying psychological issue that can be linked to stress.

The signs and symptoms of bruxism include:

  • Pain and tenderness in the jaw
  • Increased sensitivity of the teeth
  • Headaches

The effects of bruxism can be both physical and psychological in nature. Physically, bruxism can lead to dental damage from the grinding of the teeth, as well as damage to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Psychologically, people who suffer from bruxism can experience depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental distress.

Treatment for bruxism includes stress management techniques, such as relaxation therapies and mindfulness practices.

Gum Disease

Gum disease is a common oral health condition, affecting an estimated 47.2% of adults in the United States. It is a result of bacteria in the oral cavity, which leads to damage to the supporting tissues and bone around the teeth. The bacteria can cause the gums to become inflamed, leading to red, swollen, and tender gums.

Stress can exacerbate the bacteria that causes gum disease, leading to more serious complications. Research has found that high levels of stress can lead to an increase in cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that can weaken the immune system, making it difficult to fight off bacteria. This can lead to an increase in bacteria, which can result in gum disease.

Additionally, stress can lead to poor oral hygiene habits, which can also contribute to gum disease. To prevent gum disease, it is important to practice good oral hygiene, such as brushing and flossing regularly, and to manage stress levels.

Canker Sores

Canker sores are a common oral health condition that can cause painful lesions inside the mouth. Characterized by shallow ulcers, these sores can be triggered by a variety of factors, including:

  • Stress:
  • Increased stress levels can lead to a weakened immune system, making a person more prone to canker sores.
  • Stress can lead to an increase in the production of the hormones cortisol and epinephrine, which can make the sores worse.
  • Stress can lead to a decrease in the amount of saliva produced in the mouth, which can create an environment conducive to the development of canker sores.
  • Diet:
  • A deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals can contribute to canker sores.
  • Consuming acidic foods and beverages can irritate the mouth, leading to canker sores.
  • Eating spicy foods can also irritate the mouth, resulting in canker sores.
  • Other Factors:
  • Trauma to the mouth, such as biting the inside of the cheek, can result in canker sores.
  • Hormonal changes, such as during puberty, can cause canker sores.
  • Certain medical conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, can also lead to canker sores.

Proper oral hygiene, such as brushing and flossing, can help keep canker sores at bay and reduce the risk of developing them. Additionally, reducing stress levels and eating a balanced diet can help prevent the development of canker sores.

Bad Breath

Bad breath is an unpleasant condition that can be caused by a variety of factors. Stress is one such factor that can cause bad breath. Research conducted by the American Psychological Association found that stress has been linked to an increase in the production of bacteria that leads to bad breath. Furthermore, stress has a direct effect on the immune system, leading to an increase in the amount of bacteria present in the mouth, which can lead to bad breath.

Bacteria Cause Effect
Streptococcus Stress Bad Breath
Fusobacterium Poor Oral Hygiene Bad Breath
Streptococcus Tobacco Use Bad Breath

The effects of stress on the immune system can also be compounded by poor oral hygiene, tobacco use, and other lifestyle choices. For example, the bacteria Streptococcus, which is commonly found in the human mouth, can cause bad breath when it is overproduced. Similarly, Fusobacterium, another type of bacteria, can also lead to bad breath when not managed through proper oral hygiene. Finally, tobacco use has also been linked to increased levels of bacteria in the mouth, leading to bad breath.

It is important to note that stress can have a negative effect on oral health, resulting in bad breath. To prevent bad breath, it is important to practice good oral hygiene, avoid tobacco use, reduce stress, and visit a dentist for regular checkups.


The physical effects of stress on oral health can be far-reaching and detrimental. Dry mouth, bruxism, gum disease, canker sores, and bad breath are all linked to stress.

It is important to be aware of the negative effects of stress and to take appropriate action. While it can be challenging to make lifestyle changes necessary to reduce stress, the long-term effects on oral health are worth the effort.

Some may argue that it is impossible to completely eliminate stress from one’s life. While this is true, there are steps that can be taken to reduce stress and its effects on oral health.

Incorporating stress reduction activities, such as regular exercise, relaxing hobbies, and spending time with friends and family, can have a positive impact. By taking control of the stress in one’s life, one can take control of their oral health.

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