Updated October 2023
We all know that emotional stress can wreak havoc on your body and undo all of the hard work that you’ve put into being strong and healthy. But does the mind-body connection extend to your teeth? Could the stress of your deadlines, relationships, and other daily struggles be causing your oral health problems? The answer is yes!
Have you ever noticed that, when you’re feeling frazzled, you tend to tighten your jaw muscles and clench your teeth? This is a common side effect of stress, but it isn’t good for the health of your mouth, so being aware of this problem and getting the appropriate treatment could help prevent complications.
Bruxism refers to the clenching and grinding of your teeth, and when you are stressed, you might be doing it in your sleep without even being conscious of it. When you are frustrated, angry, or tense, you might start waking up with soreness in your jaw, or you might even have other symptoms of this condition. A few of those symptoms include the tips of your teeth looking flatter than usual, indentations on your tongue, or sensitive teeth as a result of your enamel being rubbed off.
In addition to bruxism, too much stress might cause temporomandibular disorders, also known as TMJ. When you’re tense, all that grinding and clenching could really put a strain on your jaw muscles and the temporomandibular joint (your jaw joint). Signs of TMJ also include flat teeth and a reduction in enamel, but you might also have pain in your jaw, or your jaw might make a clicking sound when you move it. Not fun!
Canker sores and cold sores might occur more often if you find yourself stressed all the time.
Feeling emotionally drained could lower your immune system’s ability to defend your body against pathogens, and canker sores—those small grayish or white spots that can pop up out of nowhere in your mouth—might be triggered by emotional distress. On top of that, cold sores, which are a symptom of the herpes simplex virus, might also appear on your lips when you are upset. How embarrassing!
If you suffer from these sores, try to take note of when an outbreak occurs. Were you feeling stressed or going through a difficult time when the sores appeared? If so, they might be the result of your body’s defenses taking a hit. Consider slowing down and taking extra care of yourself so your immune system will be able to power up again.
Studies have shown that when you are emotionally unwell, you have an increased risk of developing periodontal disease (that’s the fancy term for gum disease). And the more stressed you are, the more severe the gum disease could be. Who knew?!
Experts believe that, because bacteria cause gum disease, if your body is under a lot of stress and your immune system is weaker than it should be, the bacteria will be able to thrive and cause damage to your gums.
Other dental problems that may arise as a result of a lack of emotional well-being include:
Stress could also cause you to neglect your oral hygiene routine. When you aren’t brushing and flossing every day, the risk of bacteria multiplying and causing a variety of ailments, from tooth decay to gum disease, increases.
Those who are under a lot of stress might even find it difficult to eat the right foods or eat on a healthy schedule. This could potentially lead to nutritional imbalances that might adversely affect oral health.
The bad news is that poor emotional health can indeed adversely affect your dental health. The good news is that your dentist can provide solutions if you develop any of these problems. So in addition to taking small steps every day to minimize your stress as much as possible, whether that means taking up meditation or carving out time for yourself to do something you enjoy, it’s important to see your dentist at least once a year. And having the right dental insurance plan will ensure you can book your appointment as soon as you need it.
Your dentist has the right expertise and tools to thoroughly examine your mouth and search for signs that stress is taking a toll on your oral health. Once your dentist diagnoses the problem, whether it’s bruxism or gum disease, she can provide you with the appropriate treatments to ensure your smile will be bright and your mouth will be pain-free.
The link between your feelings and your body is strong, even when it comes to your teeth and gums. So in addition to tackling oral problems from a physical angle, consider taking steps to sustain your mental and emotional health as well. Here’s to being happier, stressing less, and smiling more!