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How Stress Impacts Oral Health

Gum DiseaseHealth TipsHygiene

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It is no secret that stress can have a profound effect on our physical wellbeing – but what many may not be as aware of is how stress can impact our oral health too. Issues such as teeth grinding (or bruxism), reaching for sugary foods and drinks, and dry mouths as a result of stress can have long-lasting negative consequences on our dental wellbeing. 

On hand to offer advice is Dr Smita Mehra, BDS MFGDPRCS and Principal Dentist here at The Neem Tree Dental Practice, who has outlined some of the most common ways stress and mental health-related problems can affect our mouth and gums, as well as some tips on how to combat them.

Understanding Stress

Stress happens when we feel pressure from things around us, making it hard to handle. This can make us feel worried, tense, or anxious. Today, many things can cause stress, such as work problems, money troubles, relationship issues, health worries, big life changes, and being constantly connected through technology and social media. 

When we are stressed, our bodies react with the “fight or flight” response, which raises levels of adrenaline and cortisol. This can increase our heart rate and blood pressure, weaken our immune system, cause muscle tightness, mess with our hormones, and upset our digestion. If we stay stressed for a long time and don’t manage it well, it can seriously affect our health and well-being.

Oral Health Basics

Keeping your mouth clean is very important for your overall health. Good oral hygiene helps prevent problems like cavities, gum disease, and infections in your mouth. By brushing, flossing, and visiting the dentist regularly, you remove plaque and bacteria, lowering the chance of tooth decay and swollen gums. 

If you don’t take care of your teeth, you can get cavities, which are small holes in your teeth, and gum disease, which makes your gums infected and sore. Poor oral care can also lead to mouth infections like thrush and can be linked to more serious health issues like heart disease and diabetes. This shows how looking after your mouth is key to staying healthy overall.

Stress causes the body to release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which trigger various physical responses. These can include a faster heartbeat, higher blood pressure, and a weaker immune system. If stress lasts a long time, it can lead to serious health problems like heart disease, digestive issues, and mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Ways Stress Impacts Oral Health Routine

  • Teeth Grinding and Clenching (Bruxism): Did you know that stress can lead to teeth grinding, also known as bruxism? According to the NHS, stress is one of the main causes of bruxism, which can lead to worn-down teeth and jaw pain. 
  • Neglect of Oral Hygiene: High stress levels can make people neglect daily oral care like brushing and flossing. This neglect can lead to more plaque, cavities, and gum disease since stressed individuals may not feel motivated to keep up with their dental routine.
  • Changes in Diet (More Sugar Intake): Stress can change eating habits, often increasing the intake of sugary and unhealthy foods. These foods boost the risk of tooth decay and gum disease because sugar feeds harmful bacteria in the mouth, leading to more plaque and acid that damage tooth enamel.
  • Dry Mouth from Reduced Saliva: Stress can decrease saliva production, leading to dry mouth (xerostomia). Saliva helps neutralize acids from bacteria, washes away food particles, and prevents infection. Less saliva increases the risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and oral infections.

Overall, the connection between stress and oral health shows the importance of managing stress for both general health and good oral hygiene.

Common Ways Stress Affects Our Oral Health

According to Dr Smita Mehra, some of the most common ways stress and mental health-related problems can affect our oral health.

Bacteria build-up

When under significant stress, it can be easy to neglect personal hygiene, including oral health care routines like brushing and flossing, and unfortunately, our mouth can end up paying the price. Neglecting to brush your teeth twice a day can cause a build-up of bacteria in the mouth that creates the ideal environment for more germs to spread, and can result in excessive plaque, bad breath, tooth decay, and cavities. Not only that, the build-up of bacteria can also harden into tartar – which cannot be eradicated by brushing alone and will require professional scaling and root planning to be removed. 

Bleeding gums and gum disease

Research demonstrates that stress can make it more difficult for the body to fight off infection, including periodontal diseases. When a person is stressed or dealing with mental health problems, they may over-brush their teeth by using too much force. While this may not sound like a bad thing, brushing your teeth with excessive pressure or more than twice a day could eventually lead to worn-down enamel and inflamed, irritated gums. Harsh brushing routines can even cause your gums to recede and bleed, as they pull away from the tooth to expose the subgingival tooth structure and root – which can increase your risk of gum disease and even tooth loss. 

Teeth grinding or bruxism

A very typical side effect of stress is teeth grinding or bruxism. Lots of people who are experiencing anxious thoughts or high levels of stress can unconsciously grind their teeth back and forth during their sleep, which can eventually cause them to wear down, chip or become very sensitive. Tooth sensitivity can be extremely painful, especially if the root of the tooth becomes exposed – professional help will be required to improve this. Bruxism can also lead to jaw and neck pain, headaches, a disturbed sleep pattern, and even broken teeth, making it very important to be able to pick up on the different signs that you may be suffering from the condition. 

Dry mouth

Many people who experience high levels of stress may also experience dry mouth, or xerostomia, because of decreased saliva production. This is because when we feel anxious we tend to breathe out through our mouths, which restricts airflow – drying out oral tissues. While having a dry mouth may seem harmless, it can lead to all kinds of issues, such as fungal infections and tooth decay, as saliva is essential when it comes to fighting off germs and bacteria, because it helps to wash away debris from food. 

Canker sores and ulcers 

Stress can also increase the occurrence of mouth sores like canker sores. According to the NHS, these sores can be triggered by stress and may cause discomfort in the mouth. When under large amounts of stress, you may also notice that you experience canker sores on the tissues of your mouth. Though it’s not clear why those experiencing stress are more prone to canker sores, research suggests that it’s because stress weakens your immune system. Canker sores can be particularly damaging to your oral health, because they break down the tissue and mouth lining, and can cause a lot of pain and discomfort. To treat them you can use numbing agents, or rinse with salt water. 


Did you know?

  1. Stress and Work: Did you know that work-related stress is a significant issue in the UK? According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Stress, depression or anxiety and musculoskeletal disorders accounted for the majority of days lost due to work-related ill health in 2022/23, 17.1 million and 6.6 million respectively. (Source)
  1. Stress and Mental Health: Stress can have a big impact on mental health. Mind, a mental health charity in the UK, reports that 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. (Source)
  1. Stress and Oral Health: Did you know that feeling overwhelmed can actually make you more likely to get gum disease? Stress weakens your immune system, making it harder for your body to fight off the bacteria that cause gum problems. (Source)

Recognising The Signs

Spotting the signs that stress is impacting your oral health is key to preventing more serious problems. By knowing what to look out for, you can manage stress and keep your mouth healthy.

Symptoms to Watch For

  • Jaw Pain: If you have ongoing pain or discomfort in your jaw, it might be due to teeth grinding or clenching caused by stress. This can lead to bigger issues like temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders if not addressed.
  • Sensitive Teeth: If your teeth are more sensitive to hot, cold, or sweet foods, it could mean that stress-related grinding or poor oral care is wearing down your enamel.
  • Dry Mouth: Stress can reduce saliva, leading to a dry mouth. This increases the risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and infections because saliva helps neutralize acids and wash away food particles.
  • Headaches: Regular headaches, especially in the morning, can be a sign of nighttime teeth grinding or clenching due to stress.
  • Gum Problems: Red, swollen, or bleeding gums can be a sign of gum disease, which can be made worse by stress through neglected oral hygiene or a weakened immune system.
  • Cracked or Worn Teeth: If you notice cracks, chips, or excessive wear on your teeth, it might be due to stress-related grinding.
  • Mouth Sores: More frequent canker sores or mouth ulcers can be linked to stress, which weakens your immune system and makes you more prone to infections.

What to Do

By being aware of these symptoms, you can see how stress might be affecting your oral health. You can then take steps such as improving your oral care routine, using relaxation techniques to manage stress, and visiting your dentist for professional advice and treatment if needed.

Tips To Take Care of Your Teeth When Experiencing Stress

Incorporating these preventive measures into your daily routine promotes good oral hygiene and reduces the likelihood of developing oral health problems, contributing to overall well-being and quality of life.

  1. Good Oral Hygiene Practices

To keep your mouth healthy, it’s important to brush your teeth twice a day using toothpaste with fluoride. This helps get rid of plaque and food that can cause cavities and gum problems. It’s also important to floss once a day to clean between your teeth and along your gums, where toothbrush can’t reach effectively.

  1. Avoid stimulants before sleep

Consuming stimulating drinks before bed, such as energy drinks, coffee, and even tea, can be particularly problematic when it comes to teeth grinding. This is because these drinks are designed to keep our minds active and focused, which is the opposite of what anybody wants just before they drop off. The more stimulated you are at night, the more likely you are to grind your teeth, so try to avoid anything other than caffeine-free beverages before settling down each evening. 

  1. Ask your dentist for a mouthguard to avoid bruxism

One of the best ways to prevent your teeth from becoming damaged from grinding is to ask your dentist about a mouthguard. Similarly to retainers, guards can be placed over your teeth before you go to sleep, shielding them from being damaged as you grind throughout the night. As well as this, it is crucial to be able to look out for the signs that you might be grinding in your sleep, which could include clenching your jaw or your fists without realising, tooth and gum sensitivity, and headaches. 

  1. Stay hydrated to help avoid dry mouth

Trying to avoid dry mouth and its side effects can seem like a minefield, but one of the simplest things you can do to combat it is to try to stay hydrated. While drinking enough water can be another task we forget about when we are stressed, there are different methods you can try to increase your fluid intake. One way is to invest in a 2L water bottle with refill reminders at the measuring points. Another way is to flavour your water with fruit-infused ice or sugar-free squash to make it more appealing. This way, you will encourage saliva build-up in your mouth once more, allowing it to wash away germs and debris. 

  1. Diet and Nutrition Tips

Looking after your diet is important for keeping your mouth healthy. Eating lots of fruits, veggies, lean meats, and dairy gives your teeth and gums essential nutrients they need, like calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus. Try to cut down on sugary and acidic foods and drinks to stop your teeth from getting damaged. Drinking plenty of water during the day is also great because it helps make saliva, which keeps your mouth clean and stops acids from hurting your teeth.

  1. Try to have an open dialogue with your dentist 

It can be difficult at first, but having an open and honest discussion with your dentist about your mental health and subsequent oral wellbeing can be life changing. They could recommend an enamel-strengthening toothpaste, a retainer, or even an operation or procedure to reduce any pain you may be experiencing. The worst possible thing you could do is bury your head in the sand and hope things get better on their own, so it is always best to speak to a professional. 


In today’s busy world, stress is something many of us deal with every day. But what we might not realise is how much stress can affect our oral health. 

Understanding this link is the first step to keeping our mouths healthy. If we notice signs of stress affecting our oral health, we can take action to manage stress better. This can help us stay healthier overall.

Remember, looking after our mouths isn’t just about having a nice smile. It’s about taking care of an important part of our overall health. 

As Seen In

The Link Between Mental Health and Our Mouths