Can Stress Cause Cavities?


Stress and anxiety are common feelings that affect our health. And not just our overall health. Your dental health can suffer, too. Worst of all, stress can even cause cavities. Learn how stress affects our bodies and what you can do to avoid dental problems because of it.

Long Term Stress Is Bad For Your Overall Health

Short-term stress can be healthy. Small bursts of adrenaline infrequently in emergency situations can save your life. But, if your body’s overwhelmed with stress over a long period of time, it affects your hormones and immune system. This is what we call chronic stress.

When you’re stressed your body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is usually an anti-inflammatory agent. However, when it's mass-produced in the gums, it boosts the protein production there. As a result, it causes excess inflammation in this area.

In short, stress affects your overall and your dental health on a chemical level. However, the greatest threat of stress on your teeth comes from the bad dental habits you pick up to cope with stress.

What Dental Issues Can Stress Cause

If stress can cause cavities, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are a host of serious dental issues that can happen thanks to stress and the bad habits associated with it.

Cavities and Tooth Decay

Stress can cause cavities, also known as tooth decay, in various ways. A lot of people suffering from chronic stress abandon their dental hygiene routine, making it possible for bacteria to spread and grow. 

Other lifestyle choices, such as alcohol consumption or smoking also help tooth decay take hold.

Another common reason stressed people get cavities is due to dry mouth.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth (xerostomia) is a lack of saliva production by your saliva glands. You may feel like you’re very thirsty or that your saliva feels “sticky”.

Many kinds of medication can cause dry mouth, but stress and anxiety are also linked to low saliva production. If you’re anxious and you breathe through your mouth, you can dry your mouth up even further.

Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD)

A lot of stressed people clench their teeth. This is one of the worst dental habits to have. It puts unnecessary pressure on your teeth, wears away at your enamel, and can even lead to temporomandibular disorders (TMD).

TMD means that you have pain in the muscles and joints of your jaw. Normally, your temporomandibular joints (TMJ) in front of the ears shouldn’t hurt. But with TMD, you feel pain or hear clicking sounds when you “pop” your jaw open.

TMD can also contribute to headaches due to muscle tension in the neck, jaw, and back.

Gum Disease

Gum disease and stress go hand in hand. Your stress can cause gum disease, and you’ll be stressed due to the uncomfortable side effects of gum disease.

Gum disease (periodontitis) happens when your gums are inflamed. Since stress lowers your immune response, periodontitis can easily take hold. Left untreated, the inflammation and infection of gum disease can spread to your jaw, lymph nodes, and even your heart.

At that point, losing your teeth should be the least of your concerns.

Canker Sores

Canker sores are tiny white lesions on the inside of your mouth. They can be very painful, but they’re relatively harmless. 

Unfortunately, stress is a huge contributor to canker sores. Your limited immune system can’t promote tissue regeneration quickly, so the sores stay in your mouth for a longer period of time.

5 Bad Stress Habits That Can Cause Cavities

A lot of people cope with stress through unhealthy habits. It’s often easier than facing the cause of your stress. But, these bad habits are guaranteed to damage your teeth if you keep them up. 

Try to avoid these five if you’re stressed.

1. Teeth Grinding

Grinding your teeth (bruxism) can create damage to your teeth. You wear away the enamel of your teeth, making them more susceptible to infection, temperature sensitivity, and cavities. This is just another indirect way stress can cause cavities.

Grinding can also cause cracks and fractures in your teeth, which can be very painful. As mentioned before, possibly the worst outcome of teeth grinding is TMD, which affects the position of your entire jaw.

2. Aggressive Tooth Brushing

While keeping up with your dental health routine is crucial, overdoing it does more damage than good. Contrary to how it may seem, brushing your teeth harder won’t make them cleaner. You’ll just wear away the enamel and damage your gum line if you brush too hard.

And yes, brushing your teeth too hard thanks to stress can cause cavities.

3. Smoking

Smoking is one of the worst habits to have. It increases your risk of lung and mouth cancer, causes wrinkles, and stains your teeth. And the chemicals in cigarettes can even cause cavities.

Since a lot of people pick up smoking as a way to cope with stress, it’s definitely a common way stress can cause cavities.

4. Drinking

Drinking alcohol short-term can be relaxing. However, alcohol consumption long-term contributes more to stress. While you may think it helps at first, it will make your stress worse in time. And it also leaves your teeth vulnerable.

Alcohol feeds the bacteria in your dental plaque. This plaque is the main reason you get cavities. 

5. Poor Diet

A healthy diet is crucial to keep you and your teeth healthy. Stressed people often cope by eating processed and sugary foods. While this is bad for your body for a host of reasons, it definitely affects your dental health first.

Just like alcohol, sugar and other carbohydrates feed the bacteria on your teeth, making them more susceptible to develop cavities.

How to Reduce Stress

Finding healthy ways to reduce stress will make your overall health and your dental health better. Try these ideas to protect yourself from stress-induced cavities.

  • Exercise regularly: Regular exercise doesn’t just make you physically fit. It also boosts your endorphin production, making you happier and reducing your stress.
  • Meditate: Meditation is an incredible way to cope with stress. This practice has helped people for thousands of years.
  • Try yoga: If you want to combine meditation with exercise, try yoga. You can get in touch with your body and flexibility through a simple yoga practice.
  • Reduce your caffeine intake: Coffee tastes wonderful, but your teeth hate it. The tannins in coffee stain your teeth and the acidic drink eat your enamel away. Plus, caffeine increases your alertness and anxiety.
  • Chew sugar-free gum: Sugar-free gum can reduce your teeth grinding and inadvertently clean your teeth at the same time.
  • Spend time with friends and family: Spending time with your loved ones can induce serotonin production in your brain, making you happier and less stressed.
  • Visit a therapist: A trained psychologist can help you overcome the causes of stress in your life by evaluating the mental processes that push you to anxiety.

Get Cavity Treatment Cheaper

Yes, if you’re stressed you can get cavities. Since cavities are permanent damage to your teeth, there’s nothing you can do to fix them. You’ll have to go to the dentist to get a filling, crown, root canal, or tooth extraction.

This is something you can’t leave for later. Untreated cavities can develop into serious and life-threatening infections. The sooner you get it checked and treated, the quicker and cheaper the treatment will be.

But, there’s another way to make your cavity treatment cheaper: sign up for a Carefree Dental Card!

The Carefree Dental discount plan can unlock huge savings on dental procedures at participating dentists. You can save between 15%-50%* off your bill per visit in most instances.

Get the necessary treatment for your cavity at a lower cost with Carefree Dental.


The Carefree Dental blog is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The text and pictures within the content are intended for information purposes only. Readers should consult with a licensed dentist or healthcare professional before seeking treatment.

The Carefree Dental Card is not insurance and Carefree Dental is not an insurance provider.

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