The Link Between Stress And Cavities

Children's Dental Health
By: Spirit Dental
February 15, 2011

Child getting heartbeat checked

Updated July 2021

Although a lot of people think of bacteria or sugary food as causes of cavities in children, there’s something else to consider: stress. That’s right, stress might contribute to the development of tooth decay in kids. 

Keep reading to learn more so you can be armed with important information that could help you reduce your child’s odds of needing fillings. 

Stress, Cortisol, and Tooth Decay: Oh No!

After tracking more than 100 children for two years, researchers found that almost half of them had developed tooth decay that was linked to high amounts of cortisol (a.k.a. the stress hormone) and high amounts of bacteria that lead to decay. But it didn’t stop there—household income below the poverty line was a third factor that the experts felt contributed to tooth decay.

The more decay a child had, the more bacteria was found in their mouth, and the more cortisol was detected in their saliva. The researchers concluded that children living in poverty and experiencing higher amounts of stress might be more susceptible to cavities. 

Stress Might Also Affect a Child’s Enamel

When experts examined the baby teeth that children lost as they grew, they discovered another interesting connection between stress and oral health: kids who have more cortisol in their saliva appear to be at a greater risk of having enamel that’s softer and thinner than it should be. 

Enamel is the outer, protective layer of teeth. Once it’s worn away, you can’t get it back, so it’s best to take steps to prevent the loss of enamel in the first place. But how does this relate to kids? Well, the enamel forms before the teeth erupt. So, if a child is experiencing high amounts of stress, or a chronic level of stress, cortisol will likely be high. As a result, the enamel that should be nice and hard could end up being thin and vulnerable to damage and decay.   

Other Ways That Stress Can Take Its Toll on Oral Health

Tooth decay and thin enamel aren’t the only problems that are possible when a child experiences a lot of stress. 

Sometimes, stress can cause a child to clench or grind their teeth. This might occur during the day or at night while they’re sleeping. And when this happens, a kid’s chompers might experience wear and tear, and their jaw might even be affected too. Not good! Thankfully, just talking to a dentist is a great way to work on tackling this problem before it creates even bigger issues. 

When stressed, a child’s mouth might produce less saliva, and this may put the teeth and gums at risk of problems like decay and infections. Dry mouth is a condition that needs to be addressed because saliva helps protect the teeth and gums by doing things like lubricating tissues, washing away food particles, and fighting bacteria and acid. Once again, a dentist can help!

Finally, children who are stressed might neglect their at-home oral hygiene routine, and they might turn to eating a lot of comfort foods, such as sugary treats, to try to make themselves feel better. Both of these habits can lead to a higher risk of decay and gum disease. 

Parents: Consider Your Child’s Stress Level

As a parent, you want to do your very best to ensure your little one will grow up strong and healthy, and this includes having a healthy mouth. Now that you know more about some of the adverse effects of stress on a child, you can go beyond basic oral hygiene by taking steps to help your son or daughter feel more at ease and less frazzled. 

Are you concerned about being able to afford costly trips to the dentist to help your whole family maintain a beautiful smile? Don’t be! There are many affordable dental insurance plans that you can take advantage of, and they can help you save money when your children need checkups, cleanings, and treatments. Browse the options offered by Spirit to get started today! 





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