When we go to the dentist, we are told that in order to keep our teeth healthy, we need to brush and floss two or more times a day. However, is that the only way to keep our teeth healthy? Could other factors be harming our teeth other than sugary- processed foods and lack of brushing/ flossing? Many studies have looked into the topic of how our different emotions could affect the wellbeing of our teeth.
An article on healingteethnaturally.com talks about this topic. “It seems likely that among the factors in the chain of causation linking stress and caries development are the lowering effect negative emotions (may) have both on the immune system (equaling less defense against bacteria colonizing teeth and gums) and on saliva pH (the more acidic the saliva, the more caries1).” The author of this article also noted that “A dentist once told me that he could tell a person’s emotional/psychological health from their teeth, and that the worse state their teeth were in, the worse their psychological state was.”
There are many different problems and diseases that could come from improper oral and dental hygiene. These can range from something like a painful toothache, or to something extremely serious like oral and throat cancer. Now, we are finding that emotions could be the cause of some of these oral problems. Research has found that one of the main emotions that affect oral health is anxiety. Anxiety and stress is the cause of many oral problems; one of the most commonly known problems caused by anxiety and stress is called Bruxism- or teeth grinding. “Stress is just one of the many causes for Bruxism that can wear down tooth enamel over time if not treated” (Cindy Flanagan, DDS). Other oral problems caused by stress and anxiety are TMD (Temporomandibular Joint Disorders), or otherwise known as jaw pain/ jaw popping, gum disease in adults, or tooth pain caused by Bruxism or TMD. These conditions can also be caused by depression and lack of motivation to brush and floss your teeth.
A study was done focusing on 263 dental patients on this topic. Before the study started, they were all evaluated on which moods they all experience on a regular basis, and how severely they feel these emotions. “Specifically, we observed that patients who obtained a total oral health score on the average reported increased feelings of Depression and Confusion. Instead, patients who scored lower in the oral health profile, suggesting a poor oral health-related quality of life, reported more Aggression and Fatigue. Different degrees of perceived severity of the oral health-related quality of life conditions were connected to different emotional shades. A possible explanation is that mood states may also depend on cognitive evaluation of oral health impairment (i.e., having coping abilities, self-efficacy, danger perceived, etc.), but this pathway has not yet been investigated in detail” (SAGE Journals).
So, knowing now that brushing and flossing are not the only two ways to keep your teeth in great condition, how can we make sure that our stress, anxiety, fatigue and other negative emotions do not affect our teeth? Simply by realizing and acknowledging those emotions that lead to unhealthy mind, body, and oral care, and trying to calm or remove them. “One of the best ways to combat the negative effects of stress is to remove the source of it. If that’s simply not possible, counseling, exercises, meditation, or massage and physical therapy may help reduce your stress and tension” (Cindy Flanagan, DDS). Learning better coping skills and strategies can help reduce these oral problems and lead to a happier mind, body and as we learned today, teeth!
“Can Stress Affect My Teeth?” Cindy Flanagan DDS, 14 Mar. 2016,
Settineri, Salvatore, et al. “Clinical Psychology of Oral Health: The Link Between Teeth and
Emotions.” SAGE Open, vol. 7, no. 3, 2017
Written by Heather Jans, Ramapo College Intern to Karen Ranzi, M.A.