Here’s Why Your Stress Is Ruining Your Dental Health, Says a Dentist

Updated: Jul. 19, 2022

Eighty percent of Americans say they're experiencing "significant" stress, which takes a hit at the immune system and causes a series of negative effects on the body—including your teeth.

Even your teeth are affected by stress

Stress wreaks havoc on your health in more ways than one. In particular, chronic stress—the kind of stress that’s constant within your body over time—can cause increased anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, and high blood pressure, according to the American Psychological Association. Chronic stress can even increase the risk of diseases, such as cardiovascular and diabetes. But you might not realize how stress can also play a major role in the health of your teeth, and what that does to your dental health long-term.

“Research is conclusive that chronic, long-term stress suppresses the body’s immune system,” says Dr. Yoni Polack, DMD, a general dentist practicing in Suwanee, GA who treats patients for dental, TMJ, and sleep-disordered breathing issues.

When the body’s immune system is suppressed, it causes the number of white blood cells—which help to fight infection—to decrease, according to the Cleveland Clinic. These infections include the kinds that develop in your mouth.

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It starts with good (and bad) bacteria in the mouth

“Our mouths contain the second-largest and diverse amount of microorganisms in the human body,” says Dr. Polack (who adds that the gut is the first). “While most of these microorganisms are good and help maintain oral health, some are not.”

Similar to bacteria in the gut, your mouth contains bacteria that can either help or harm your dental health. Almost 700 different species of microbes can live within your mouth at a time—some benefiting your teeth, and some not.

“When those harmful microorganisms grow out of proportion, they cause the diseases we are familiar with such as tooth decay and gum disease,” he continues.

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Bad bacteria make it harder to fight off disease

“When a chronically stressed individual with an impaired immune system is faced with an overabundance of these harmful microorganisms, their bodies are not capable of fighting them off effectively—sometimes even causing additional harm,” says Dr. Polack. “Periodontal diseases such as gingivitis and periodontitis fall into this category. Additionally, mouth sores such as canker sores and cold sores have been documented to be associated with stress, as they seem to result from a poorly functioning immune system.”

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How to manage stress for dental health

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, offer up solutions for managing stress—these include taking breaks from interacting with the news, taking care of your physical health through a high-quality diet and exercise, getting plenty of sleep, taking time to unwind, and eliminating substances such as alcohol.

All in all, prioritizing your mental and physical health will benefit not only your teeth…but it may reduce your risk of disease and benefit your body long-term.

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