The 4 Biggest Ways Stress Affects Oral Health

a woman's jaw is sore after clenching it when stressed


We all know stress can cause a multitude of symptoms. And while we may immediately think of increased heart rate, an upset stomach or sweaty palms, our oral health can also suffer because of stress.

In this article, we break down the four major ways stress can affect your oral health and offer helpful tips to alleviate the tension in your life.

TMJ Disorder

The temporomandibular joints, commonly abbreviated as TMJ, are located just below your ear and are used to move your lower jaw. If you tend to clench your jaw or grind your teeth when stressed, this can cause pain and swelling, resulting in TMJ disorder. Your jaw may then start to pop and click, or you may experience pain when chewing.

Bedtime tooth grinding

Known as bruxism, tooth grinding can become a problem when it is a frequent reaction outside of a stressor. It is most common when we are asleep (sleep bruxism) and you probably won’t know it is happening unless someone like your partner points it out. Symptoms include worn tooth enamel, broken and chipped teeth, increased tooth pain and sensitivity, and soreness in the jaw, face and neck.

Gum disease

When we experience stress, our body focuses its attention on “fight or flight” functions that are needed to assist the body when faced with a perceived threat. But if we are constantly stressed, our body is consistently being exposed to the idea of risk and we enter hyperstimulation. As a result, our immune system suffers and it becomes harder to fight off infections like gum disease.

Canker sores

While scientists aren’t exactly sure what causes these painful and annoying mouth ulcers, canker sores are incredibly common and research has shown they can present as a symptom to stress. They are also more common in women than men and tend to be aligned with menstrual cycles and hormonal changes.

How to relieve stress

The good news is that we don’t have to live with our stress. By finding ways of coping with and alleviating the tension within, a ripple effect will be triggered that will help reduce or eliminate our symptoms.

Here are some ideas to help you get started on your journey:

  • Live in the moment. Mindfulness isn’t just a social media buzzword: it offers many mental health benefits, including lowered blood pressure and stress reduction.
  • Do something fun! A simple act to boost your mood can increase endorphins, which lowers stress levels.
  • Stop doomscrolling. Constantly reading bad news and negative commentary has a direct effect on all aspects of our well-being.
  • Learn to set boundaries. By understanding what makes you feel good and what things you want to keep out, you are telling others how you want to be treated.
  • Talk to someone. If you have considered giving teletherapy a try, here is everything you need to know to get started.

You should also speak with your doctor or dentist about your stress. If there is a specific oral health symptom that is troubling you, they can develop a plan to treat it. Or they may take a more holistic approach to your stress, including prescribing an anti-anxiety medicine, suggesting meditation techniques or referring you to a counselor. 

The bottom line: Stress can wreak havoc on our bodies and our oral health is no exception. Try some stress reduction techniques at home or speak with your doctor or dentist about your symptoms.