Oral Health and Stress Level: How Chronic Stress Can Harm Your Mouth

Singapore is being taken over by a silent epidemic: stress. Nearly all working adults in Singapore (92%) say that they experience stress.

These were the findings of a Well-Being Survey conducted by Cigna 360 in 2019. For comparison, on a global scale, an average of 84% of all working adults are stressed. The levels of stress across the entire adult population are higher by 8%.

Stress is a problem not only because it affects productivity, but it leads to adverse health consequences. Every year, over two million doctor visits are made due to chest pains related to stress. An additional 240,000 people are sent to emergency departments in hospitals for other stress-related illnesses.

Overall, Singapore spends a total of S$3.1 billion, or 18% of the entire nation’s healthcare expenditure, on stress-related illnesses.

Stress, when it becomes chronic, can lead to high blood pressure, abnormal heartbeat, heart disease, and stroke. It may also result in sleeplessness, restlessness, overeating or undereating, mood swings, anxiety, and depression.

In addition, it can have a pretty bad impact on your oral health.

Pericoronitis: How Stress is Responsible for Tooth Pain

Stress harms your mouth in various ways. Sometimes, when a person is stressed, they become less likely to maintain good oral hygiene. Because they are tired, they might skip flossing or go straight to bed as soon as they go home. Stress can also influence people to overeat and, often, they binge unhealthy meals full of refined sugars that encourage the growth of bad bacteria that destroys the enamel of the teeth.

Stress can also increase a person’s likelihood of infections in the mouth, including pericoronitis.

One of the causes behind pericoronitis, the inflammation of the gum tissue usually above and around wisdom teeth. The condition is common among people in their 20s. It is often associated with symptoms such as pain and swelling in the gum tissue, pus, difficulty opening the mouth or lockjaw, difficulty swallowing, loss of appetite, fever, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck. Depending on the severity, the dentist might recommend the removal of the wisdom tooth and/or the gym flap around it. In addition, the patient may be prescribed antibiotics and pain medication.

Bruxism: Grinding Your Teeth or Clenching Your Jaw Because of Stress

Stress can induce involuntary actions, and one of the most widespread is bruxism. Bruxism is the act of clenching the jaw or grinding one’s teeth, both of which happen unconsciously. However, it is a response to stress and it is really bad for the teeth.

Bruxism can cause fracture or loosening of the teeth. Eventually, it can lead to teeth loss. Moreover, people can actually grind their teeth down to stumps which can no longer be reversed. The patient would need implants or partial dentures to replace their damaged tooth.

No amount of medication can stop bruxism. Those who experience it should look into wearing a mouthguard when they sleep to prevent teeth damage. Better yet, develop strategies that can ease stress to prevent bruxism in the first place.

TMD: The Clicking of Your Jaw is From Stress

At some point, you may experience an ache or a popping sound coming from your jaw. The condition is called temporomandibular disorder (TMD), and it is actually quite common among adults. Up to 30% of adults will have it.

Sometimes, there is no clear cause behind TMD. If the clicking happens out of the blue, the patient should monitor their levels of stress. Bruxism, due to stress, can cause discomfort of the jaw which becomes worse while speaking or eating. Bruxism can also cause the jaw to misalign which will give way to the clicking sound and chronic pain.

woman at the dentist

Bleeding Gums: Stress and Inflammation

If you have been seeing blood coming out of your mouth after you brush your teeth and you floss, it is time to visit a dentist. This is usually a symptom of gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease.

Gingivitis has been linked to chronic stress and it has to do with the body’s levels of cortisol.

Cortisol is the hormone responsible for the body’s fight or flight response. In short bursts, cortisol is actually good for the body because it acts as a natural anti-inflammatory substance. However, when stress becomes chronic, cortisol loses its potency. The body can get used to too much cortisol which can lead to more inflammation.

Inflammation can cause further bleeding of the gums, creating an opening for bacteria to enter the body. Moreover, stress also suppresses certain functions, including an immune system, which increases a person’s risk of infection.

The reduction of stress should be a part of every person’s oral hygiene routine. The teeth, unlike the bones and skin, cannot heal themselves, and therefore, should be given more care. If stress is starting to harm your oral health, it is time to relax.

Scroll to Top