Episode 067 | HOW Stress Affects Your Oral Health


Hello and welcome to episode number 67 of Elmar´s Tooth Talk: The missing link to total health.

In today’s episode, we talk about how stress can impact your oral health.

So, What’s in it for you in this episode:

We talk about:

  • What are the main structures and parts in your mouth that are affected by stress?
  • Why stress affects your oral health
  • How stress affects your oral health
  • What other stress factors affect your oral health
  • How to reduce stress and its effects on your oral health

A certain level of stress can be positive as it can make you feel more alert and energized.

However, I think we can all agree that stress becomes problematic when you experience challenges or difficulties continuously without any relief or relaxation

Then stress can be debilitating.

Because it is continually there in the background, it stops the body and brain functioning as they should and so can lead to a whole bunch of health issues.

Oral health is just one of those issues, however it is one where there is real danger of serious long term health problems occurring if not dealt with appropriately.

Studies have found links between stress and conditions as serious as obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and, of course, mental health issues such as depression and they also found oral health to be affected.
They even found that the more someone suffers from perceived stress the poorer their oral health.
Also, when Oral health issues are already apparent, they will remain in the forefront of a person’s mind and so lead to even further stress, which in turn can and most likely will exacerbates these problems!

Symptoms that indicate stress in your mouth

The main symptoms in your mouth where you can recognise stress are when you suffer from

  • Gum disease
  • Clenching or grinding your teeth
  • TMJ disorders
  • Dry mouth
  • Mouth Ulcers
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Bad breath

Now, let us have a closer look into these seven areas.


Stress is affecting your immune system and therefore can affect your gum health by either developing gum disease or worsening existing gum disease.

When under stress the hormone cortisol is increased, and this may lower your body’s natural immune system and so make you more prone to gum disease.

If the stress continuous, gum disease can lead to your teeth becoming loose, you facing potential tooth loss and also a further increased risk of for example diabetes or heart problems.


Stress can lead to teeth clenching or grinding which can reduce your sleep quality at night.

A symptom that serves to propel the “stress cycle”

Grinding of teeth and consequent jaw or facial pain, morning headaches and even increased teeth sensitivity is a common impact from stressed facial muscles. 

Stress can cause constant worrying and thinking, which can affect your body when it’s asleep and can cause you to grind your teeth.

Now, most people clench or grind unconsciously whilst they are asleep.

Clenching and grinding can cause:

  • Teeth to crack
  • You feel tiredness of the jaws on waking or
  • Your teeth appear flattened or chipped

If you find yourself stressed before you go to sleep or having headaches when you wake up, this could be a sign you may be grinding your teeth at night.


Many TMJ disorders can be directly related to stress.

One of the ways that we deal with stress is to clench our jaw and in severe cases grind our teeth.

This can cause headaches and muscle aches within and around the jaw. It may even lead to a misalignment of the jaw.

Reducing stress can go a long way in reducing the pain and discomfort from teeth grinding and TMJ issues.

A longer-term solution to the effect grinding and clenching has on your TMJ can be a bespoke mouthguard.

This guard protects your teeth from grinding, and you will still be comfortable enough to not reduce the quality of sleep.

Treatment for bruxism also includes the use of relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga or just anything that takes your mind off your stressful situation even a gentle walk might do.


One would expect a damp environment to be a breeding ground for bacteria, but it is more the dry mouth that offers great conditions for oral bacteria to strive.

The reason is a dry mouth has less saliva to wash away.

Another reason is that when people are under stress, they are less likely to maintain healthy habits which include drinking enough water and consuming a nutritious diet.

These factors can lead to a dry mouth, thus allowing bacteria to flourish.

Although dryness of the mouth can be caused by stress it is more likely be caused by medications taken to treat stress, anxiety, or depression.

A dry mouth can have consequences such as:

  • Reduced taste and appetite
  • Increased tooth decay because of the lack of protection
  • Difficulty in wearing dentures due to lack of lubrication
  • Increased plaque accumulation and consequent increased gum disease

Before we look into some simple remedies, also check your medication which could be the cause of your dry mouth and check your breathing habits. Because if you breathe through your mouth your mouth will dry out very quickly.

Stop smoking and reduce coffee and alcohol consumption. Alcohol as well as coffee or black tea dehydrate your body.

To help your saliva glands produce more saliva try one of the following recipes.

First of all, make sure you drink enough water throughout the day

  • Apple is one of the best foods for dry mouth
  • Carrots and celery also stimulate salivation
  • Aloe vera juice
  • Cayenne pepper stimulates saliva glands and taste buds – just be careful, some are very hot
  • Spices such as ginger, cardamon,
  • Start oil pulling
  • Get a humidifier in your bedroom

If nothing helps, drop by your dentist and let him investigate further.


The colour and form of your soft tissue in the mouth is a pretty good indicator of your general health.

Chronic stress suppresses the immune system and can leave you open to disease and infection.

Mouth ulcers are one example of this and although are relatively harmless, can make life unbearable when eating, drinking, speaking, or even just swallowing.

These ulcers mainly occur on the inside of the mouth and are white or yellow-ish surrounded by a dark red area.

Minimising your exposure to stressful situations and adopting some simple lifestyle changes can reduce your chances of developing mouth ulcers.

Swishing your mouth with a warm salt solution or therapeutic grade essential oils such as tea tree or clove can bring relief as well as oil pulling.

now we come to #6


People suffering from stress also have a higher tendency to do things that are let’s say suboptimal for their oral health.

If you’re feeling stressed and have too much on your plate, you may find yourself not having the time to brush your teeth and tongue or floss regularly.

A stressed person might even skip brushing their teeth altogether, or skip flossing, or at best give their teeth just a cursory brush.

For a bit of comfort, they might snack on unhealthy treats, especially those high in sugar and adding the problem.


How the heck does stress cause bad breath you might think

It is estimated that 50% of the population suffers from bad breath. From my experience, I guess that this is an underestimation.

When individuals find themselves in high-stress circumstances, their bodies react by using the sympathetic nervous system as a form of protection.

This system essentially triggers the fight-or-flight response mechanism, providing you with a boost of energy so you can react quickly to the situation.

In cases of chronic stress, your body is kept in this ‘fight or flight’ mode and conserves energy by turning off certain digestive functions such as the production of saliva.

The mouth then produces a lower level of saliva – saliva is mandatory for moistening food for easier digestion, but the body deems it unnecessary in critical situations.

Saliva evaporates and the mouth becomes dry, leading to bad breath.

This happens because the odorous gases created by bacteria in the mouth, which are generally suppressed by saliva and swallowed away, are now free to be released into the air.

Additionally, bacteria are much more likely to stick to the surfaces of a dry mouth, which can further enhance the sour smell.

The recipe to get out of this is to drink plenty of water or rinse with a non-alcohol all-natural mouthwash.

I am not a friend of chewing gum. First of all, it looks rather disgusting and secondly, it gives the wrong signal to your brain and stomach saying “food is coming” which obviously isn’t but the body will have already started producing digestive enzymes and hormones.

Other factors affecting your oral health when stressed:


Having a poor diet as a result of stress can cause a lack of the vitamins and nutrients that you need to be healthy. And it is also the other way round. A poor diet can cause stress.


A stressed person may find themself having too much to do to see their dentist regularly.


Someone who is stressed might smoke more and they might drink alcohol more regularly.

The stats are alarming – in 90% of cases where cancer of the mouth, lips or tongue is detected, the person is either a smoker or chews tobacco.

Smoking can make it up to six times more likely that a person will suffer from gum disease.

Smoking also greatly affects recovery from illness, for instance, research shows that cancer is six times more likely to return if the patient is a smoker.

Any of these bad habits alone will have a detrimental effect on oral health but combined they multiply the impact.

However, the effects of smoking might not be immediately obvious.

Smoking also damages the blood vessels in the gums and so can actually make bleeding gums less likely.

And therefore, gum disease could be occurring yet without the usual first tell-tale sign to suggest gum disease might be present.

How to reduce stress and its effects on your oral health

We all have stress in our lives; the challenging part is trying to manage it.

Oftentimes, we neglect our oral health but taking care of our teeth and gums during stressful times is even more important.

Establishing and maintaining a good oral hygiene regiment under low-stress periods will help to maintain good oral hygiene during stressful periods.

Having a few stress-relieving activities available will help keep both your body and mind fit.

Tackling oral health issues might not eliminate stress, but it can help prevent the problem from escalating and prevent far more serious issues from occurring in the future.

Tackling oral health is one step towards halting the progress of further stress and ensuring that, as the stress subsides, it has not caused long term damage.

Stress often is an unavoidable part of modern-day living, but that can really hinder your day-to-day life.

You can help to minimise the impact that stress has on your oral health by adopting the following:

Start with some lifestyle changes

Stress can often lead us to make bad lifestyle choices that will impact our oral health.

Limiting consumption of sugary foods and drinks, alcohol and quitting smoking will all contribute to healthier gums and mouth.

Smoking, in particular, dries out the mouth and can lead to gum disease as a result of bacteria and toxins causing plaque to form in the mouth.

Find relaxing techniques to help manage your stress.

Get plenty of sleep.

Eat a healthy, balanced diet that fits you.


Fitting exercise into your lifestyle will do wonders for your stress levels.

When you exercise, you’re using physical activity and thereby shed the mind of stressful thoughts.

Regularly practising yoga for example, maybe great for the body and mind.

Similarly, deep breathing exercises can be very beneficial, and any form of exercise may boost endorphin production and help you better handle your emotions in high-tension situations

Introduce a robust oral health regime

Brush and floss regularly with all-natural ingredients, free from nasties such as sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), a soapy detergent that creates foam but has no cleaning benefit and is also free from fluoride.

sodium lauryl sulphate has recently been linked to serious side effects including canker sores.

Flossing is an extra step, but it’s an important one, as it helps get in between the teeth where toothbrushes sometimes miss.

In addition, regular and specific application of alcohol-free mouth rinses based on essential oils or other all-natural ingredients will help calm the gum area and work to both eliminate germs associated with gum disease and reduce the formation of biofilm, which leads to plaque and tartar build-up.

It’s important to steer clear of alcohol-based mouthwashes as these can cause dry mouth, and just mask odours rather than killing off bacteria.

This way staying on top of oral health is relatively straightforward – one less thing to stress about.

Stay hydrated throughout the day

The fight-or-flight reaction to stress can make you dehydrated and this leads to dry mouth and bad breath bacteria forming, which can both contribute to the onset of halitosis gum disease.

If you keep your mouth and body well hydrated, you will minimise the chance of developing a dry mouth that can lead to these problems.

Talk to your dentist and have regular check-ups

They are the very best source of advice and will be able to check for any signs of any stress-related gum disease and bad breath issues.

In addition, they will be able to offer advice on how to prevent stress affecting your oral health and put in place a care plan that is bespoke to you.

Seeing your dentist can either put your mind at rest that there are no oral health issues or help correct any that do exist.

A dentist can also spot early signs of gum issues or other problems which, if left untreated, will become more problematic and heighten stress.

It is difficult, and potentially dangerous, for most people to self-diagnose the cause of their gum issues.

Dentists and hygienists are key in diagnosing the difference between simple gingivitis, which is easily reversible with good oral hygiene and periodontitis, which requires more frequent hygiene, and potentially periodontal, treatment. 

So, now you can see that by preparing for the worst-case when you are still in a good place is the best plan to cope with life’s challenges and now you have some ingredients at hand on how to do this.

That’s it for today, Elmar’s Tooth Talk – The missing link to total health.

Thanks for tuning in. Bye for now.

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