Don't Let Stress Compromise Your Oral Health

If you need another reason to convince you it's important to manage stress, here's one you might not expect: stress takes a toll on your teeth and gums and can cause long-term damage and subsequent oral health problems.

Stress is a normal part of life. But chronic, persistent stress can wreak havoc on your physical and mental health, causing elevated blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart disease, compromising your immune system, and putting you at risk for periodontal disease.

During stress, your body releases the hormone adrenaline, which increases your heart rate and prepares your body to respond to the threat. This is the classic fight or flight response. When the threat passes, your hormones return to normal levels. During chronic stress, however, your body releases cortisol, another hormone. Since the stress does not quickly pass, your cortisol levels remain elevated. Over time, cortisol diminishes the effectiveness of your immune system.

How Stress Affects Your Oral Health

Stress, depression, and elevated cortisol levels are correlated with measures of periodontal disease and are a good predictor of who is more likely to lose teeth. Studies have shown that veterans and others who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder typically have poor oral health.

Many people grind and clench their teeth when stressed, especially when they're sleeping. They're usually not even aware they are doing it. Clenching and grinding puts excessive pressure on your teeth and can wear them down. It also causes headache, sore teeth, and sore jaws, and may lead to painful problems with your temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which links the jaw to the skull. Furthermore, grinding or clenching your teeth strains the jaw muscles and can create painful trigger points in the face.

Being stressed and depressed makes us more susceptible to engage in unhealthy habits, such as smoking and abusing alcohol. In turn, these activities negatively affect our health and make us more vulnerable to stress. Depressed people are also more likely to neglect their oral hygiene.

Prevent Damage

Here are few tips for maintaining good oral health.

  • Learn to manage your stress. Stress management through deep breathing, exercise, or participating in enjoyable activities helps relieve symptoms of depression and improves your oral health.
  • Don't neglect oral hygiene. Brush and floss daily and have your dentist examine your teeth regularly.
  • If you are depressed, seek treatment from a mental health professional.
  • If clenching and grinding your teeth continues, physical therapy and biofeedback can help you relax tense muscles and prevent TMJ problems.


"Maintaining Healthy Teeth and Gums Is a Wise Investment." American Academy of Periodontology. Web. 2 February 2009.

Rosania A.E., Low K.G., McCormick C.M., and Rosania D.A. "Stress, depression, cortisol, and periodontal disease." Journal of Periodontology 80(2) (2009): 260-266. Medscape Medical News. Web. 2009.

Beck, Melinda. "The Daily Grind: When Stress Sets Your Teeth on Edge." Wall Street Journal. Web. 7 October 2008.

"Stressed Out? NIH News in Health. Web. January 2001.