How stress impacts teeth and oral health

Many aspects of daily life cause people stress. Emotional, environmental, and postural stressors can affect the body. Stress can also cause dental issues.

Mouth Problems Caused by Stress

Stress can affect your oral health. Many people suffering from stress and anxiety find their dental health regimens aren’t regularly adhered to. Folks who are depressed tend to have poor eating habits. They consume foods higher in carbs, sugar, and caffeine. They are also more apt to skip regular dental visits. Both of those affect oral health.

Stress also weakens the immune system by increasing cortisol production. A weakened immune system allows bacteria to attack gums. That results in gum inflammation. 

Anxiety and stress can cause numerous oral health conditions:

  • Dry mouth
  • Bruxism
  • Canker sores
  • Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ or TMD)
  • Burning mouth syndrome
  • Mouth ulcers (lichen planus)

Can Anxiety Cause Dry Mouth?

Can stress cause dry mouth? Yes, since the common denominator is mouth saliva.

Increased stress levels cause reduced saliva production. Saliva is critical for oral health for several reasons. It removes food particles from teeth and keeps them moist. Saliva also remineralizes tooth enamel while fighting bacteria. Reduced saliva levels lead to plaque buildup and an increased prospect of dental issues. Dry mouth can eventually lead to tooth decay and gum disease.

Stress Mouth Sores

Cold sores are also referred to as fever blisters. The blisters are filled with fluid. Cold sores are caused by herpes simplex type 1 and are extremely contagious. They develop on or around the lips and tend to stay dormant until they are activated due to stress.

Cold sores usually heal in a week or so. Due to their highly contagious nature, start treatment as soon as you notice one forming. Delay any dental treatments until the cold sores are fully healed.

Ulcers in Mouth from Stress

Can anxiety cause ulcers? Yes, ulcers – including those in the mouth - occur due to anxiety.

A mouth ulcer is a sore that can develop on the gums, tongue, inner cheeks, lips, or palate. They tend to be yellow or red in color. They can also be quite painful. 

Mouth ulcers are different than cold sores in several ways. They form inside the mouth whereas cold sores form on the lips. Mouth ulcers aren’t contagious unlike cold sores. Cold sores are also caused by viruses. 

Besides stress, there are other factors that contribute to mouth ulcers forming. They include a lack of sleep, vitamin deficiencies, accidentally biting the tongue or cheek, using an abrasive toothpaste, and viral, bacterial, and fungal infections, among others.

Canker sores can be red or yellow and quite painful until they heal

Can Stress Cause Canker Sores?

Canker sores are small shallow ulcers that form inside the mouth. They sometimes form in pairs or greater numbers. Eating and talking can be uncomfortable when canker sores are present.

Canker sores come in two types: simple and complex. Exactly why they form is unknown. Simple canker sores are typically caused by stress or tissue injury. They tend to disappear in 10 days. Spicy and acidic foods aggravated them so avoid consuming those until the sore is gone. For additional relief, use an over-the-counter “numbing” agent.

Complex canker sores are more serious. They usually form due to a health issue such as Celiac or Crohn’s Disease, a diminished immune system, or a gastrointestinal issue.

Can Stress Cause Tooth Pain?

So can stress cause toothaches? The answer is yes. Toothaches can form in a variety of ways. Poor diets, brought about by stress, lead to plaque buildup and, if left untreated, a cavity. Gum disease can develop in the long term.

Stress also brings about issues such as clenching and grinding the teeth. Temperomandibular disorders can cause jaw and tooth pain.

Can Stress Affect Taste?

Stress significantly impairs a person’s ability to taste. The greater the stress, the greater that ability is impeded. Stress also makes people crave higher amounts of sugar and fat. That results from taste sensing reduction. Since the body can’t taste foods at its typical level, it craves higher amounts of them to recognize the typical taste level associated with specific foods.

Can Stress Cause Jaw Pain?

Stress is also linked to jaw pain. People tend to clench their jaws when stressed. Chronic jaw clenching leads to temporomandibular (TMD) disorders which involve the joints in the gums. TMD disorders lead to chronic pain in the jaw or around the ears. It also results in popping and clicking in the temporomandibular joint. TMD can cause a person difficulty in opening the mouth and chewing food.

Stress can initiate the tooth decay process which leads to gum disease and even tooth loss

Can Stress Cause Cavities?

People often neglect their self-care when they are stressed. That includes maintaining a regular oral care routine. It also involves making poor dietary choices That combination leads to plaque buildup, which can cause cavities.

Can Stress Cause Tooth Decay

Stress is a factor in tooth decay development. It causes the body to flush minerals that protect teeth while enhancing an environment in the mouth for acid and bacteria. Both of those play a role in cavity creation.

People tend to turn to comfort foods when they are stressed. Many of those foods are high in sugar as sweets and chocolate are prime examples.

Tingling Lips and Anxiety

Anxiety disorder can also affect the skin on or in any part of the body. Symptoms include tingling, numbness, a pins and needles sensation or feeling like your skin is under anesthesia. 

This can happen with any form of anxiety including anxiety and panic attacks, general anxiety, social anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The lips are on area of the body that anxiety can affect in this manner. The tingling occurs in a variety of ways. Both lips, one lip, or part of a lip can tingle.

Tingling can occur occasionally, frequently, or chronically. The tingling intensity can vary from slight to moderate to severe. Anxiety can cause the tingling due to a “fight or flight” response or overly anxious behavior.

Numb Tongue and Anxiety

Like tingling lips, anxiety can cause a numb tongue sensation due to the fight or flight response mechanism. The blood vessels constrict and thus, blood flow is reduced. That leads to the numbness sensation. Numbness is most common in the hands and feet, but it can also happen in the tongue. 

Teeth Chattering and Anxiety

Anxiety can cause teeth chattering, also known as bruxism. Being uncomfortable or scared that is anxiety-induced can make people subconsciously clench their jaw and grind their teeth. 

Left untreated, chattering can damage tooth enamel, cause mandible and tooth deformation, and incur small injuries like biting your tongue.

Gingivitis Caused by Stress

Persistent levels of stress and/or anxiety can cause numerous dental health issues including gum disease. Gingivitis is the first phase of gum disease. 

Bacteria that form on the inside edges of teeth eventually penetrates below the gumline. The bacteria cause irritation and infection that is the start of gingivitis. Left untreated, the bacteria access the jawbone. Once this occurs, tooth loss is almost imminent. 

Find a Dentist Near Me

Consult your dentist to discuss any questions about oral health issues caused by stress. Or, check out The Smile Generation to find a dentist near you for all your oral health needs. You can read patient reviews, peruse staff bios, and schedule an appointment online with a click of your mouse.

Find a local dentist near you


Folk, Jim, Numbness Tingling Anxiety Symptoms,, February 20, 2022,

Stress and Gum Disease, Pure Periodontics, August 18, 2022,

Wyndham, Lucy, The Link Between Stress, Anxiety, and Dental Health, The American Institute of Stress, February 7, 2022,

Anxiety disorders and your oral health, Delta Dental, November 17, 2021,

Villines, Zawn, What to know about a tingling tongue and anxiety, Medical News Today, April 13, 2021,

Teeth Chattering: Anxiety and Other Causes, SA West Social Anxiety Social Group, October 11, 2019,

Mouth Ulcer, Cleveland Clinic, September 7, 2021,

View All Sources