7 Dental Issues Caused by Stress

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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  • woman with tooth pain

    You already know stress can trigger headaches and stomach aches. What you may not realize is how stress affects your teeth, gums, and overall oral health as well. Dentists, in fact, noticed a dramatic increase in stress-related dental issues when their offices opened after the first round of COVID-19 lockdowns.

    Find out how stress affects your teeth, gums and jaw, and learn how to identify, manage and prevent dental issues caused by stress.

  • 1
    Tooth fractures
    Woman with jaw pain

    Virtually all teeth have tiny little fissures and cracks due to everyday wear-and-tear. By themselves, these small cracks are no problem. But when we’re stressed, we tend to clench our jaws and unconsciously grind our teeth, often in our sleep. That excess pressure on those tiny fissures can cause teeth to break and fracture.

    Your teeth should not touch when you’re at rest. If they do, talk to your dentist, who may prescribe a retainer or night guard.

  • 2
    Teeth grinding (bruxism)
    Jaw pain after waking up or sleeping, TMJ Bruxisum, teeth grinding

    Teeth grinding is a common condition that affects both children and adults. According to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, about one-third of adults grind their teeth during the daytime; approximately 10% grind their teeth at night during sleep.

    Teeth grinding wears down the surface of the teeth over time; the tips of the teeth may appear flattened. Long before that, though, teeth grinders may experience headaches, pain, earaches and jaw stiffness. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms on a regular basis, consult a dentist.

  • 3
    Sensitive teeth
    Young woman eating popsicle, close up

    Teeth grinding and jaw clenching can harm the enamel, or protective outer coating, of the teeth. Tooth enamel is the hardest tissue in the human body, but it’s thin and can wear away over time. Erosion of tooth enamel can cause extreme sensitivity to hot, cold, sweet or sour foods.

    Your body can’t regenerate tooth enamel, so if you’re experiencing increased tooth sensitivity, it’s a good idea to see a dentist, who can help you figure out how to prevent more enamel loss and how to strengthen your remaining enamel.

  • 4
    Oral pain
    Caucasian man on couch holding mouth in pain or discomfort

    Tooth, gum or mouth pain can be caused by stress—and more stress may equal more pain. A 2016 study published in BMC Oral Health found that people who reported high stress levels had greater oral pain than those with less stress.

    At times, the source of the pain may be obvious. But other times, the discomfort appears before you can spot an issue that might trigger pain. Consider seeing a dentist rather than living with the pain. A dentist can evaluate your overall oral health and identify (and treat) potential problems before they become big problems.

  • 5
    Temporomandibular disorder (TMD)
    Jaw Pain in Older Man

    The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects your jawbone to your skull. It’s involved in opening and closing your mouth and moving your lower jaw side to side, forward and back. Pain or dysfunction affecting this joint is called temporomandibular disorder (TMD). Symptoms of TMD include pain, difficulty opening or moving the jaw, clicking sounds with movement, and muscle fatigue or headache.

    Stress appears to aggravate TMD. Research has found that some of the habits we use to release stress, such as chewing gum or leaning the chin on the hands, may contribute to TMJ dysfunction.

  • 6
    Canker sores
    canker sores

    Canker sores are little ulcerations on the inside of your mouth or on your gums. They’re not serious or harmful, but they can be quite uncomfortable and make eating a bit of a challenge. No one knows exactly what causes canker sores, but researchers have linked them to stress. At least one study has noted that students are much less likely to experience canker sores during school breaks, when stress levels are lower.

    Most canker sores will go away in about a week without any treatment. However, if you’re experiencing frequent canker sores, consult a dentist.

  • 7
    Gum disease
    Woman checking her teeth in mirror

    The most common cause of gum disease is poor oral hygiene. And researchers suspect that’s one reason why stress may cause gum disease: Stressed-out people are more likely to neglect oral hygiene, to smoke, and to eat and drink sugary or acidic foods that promote gum disease. Some research also suggests stress hormones promote the growth of bacteria known to contribute to the development of gum disease.

    Easing your stress may improve your dental health. Stress management techniques like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing are good for your mind—and for your gums and teeth as well.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 3
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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