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Feeling stressed? Your dentist can tell

During routine dental examinations and cleanings, dentists can detect oral symptoms of stress, including orofacial pain, bruxism, temporomandibular disorders (TMJ), mouth sores and gum disease. If you’re feeling tense or anxious, you should keep a watchful eye for signs of the following stress-related disorders.


Bruxism is the technical term for grinding teeth and clenching jaws. Although it can be caused by sleep disorders, an abnormal bite or teeth that are missing or crooked, it can also be caused by stress and anxiety. Nervous tension, anger and frustration can cause people to start showing the signs of bruxism without even knowing it.

Because people are often not aware that they grind their teeth, it's important to know the signs and to seek treatment if you suspect you may have bruxism. Some signs of bruxism include:

  • Tips of the teeth appear flat
  • Tooth sensitivity caused by worn enamel
  • Indentations in your tongue

Your dentist can examine your teeth to determine whether you may have bruxism and, if so, how best to treat it.

Temporomandibular disorders

TMJ refers to a group of conditions that affects the jaw joint (temporomandibular joint) and the associated muscles in the jaw and neck. Stress is thought to be a factor in TMJ. Stressful situations can aggravate TMJ by causing overuse of jaw muscles, specifically clenching or grinding teeth. You may experience symptoms of TMJ, such as jaw joint pain or popping and clicking of the jaw. If you experience any of these, check with your dentist to see if TMJ may be the cause.

Gum disease

Researchers have found that emotional factors play a significant role in the development of adult gum disease. They also discovered that the severity of gum disease increased with the amount of stress (from spouse, children, lack of companionship, finances or work) experienced in a patient's previous 12 months.

Those at greatest risk for gum disease were those who were highly emotional in dealing with financial problems. But there's good news: Patients who dealt with their financial strain in an active and positive manner had no more risk of severe gum disease than those without money problems.

Canker sores

Canker sores (or mouth ulcers) generally occur inside the mouth and are not contagious. They often are triggered by trauma such as biting your cheek, jabbing your gum with your toothbrush or even overzealous tooth cleaning.

Canker sores may also be triggered by stress. Studies have shown that students have a high prevalence of canker sores, yet the sores appear less frequently during breaks and after graduation, when stress levels are lower.

How to treat stress

One of the best ways to fight the negative effects of stress is to remove the source of stress. If it's not possible, counseling, exercise such as yoga or jogging, relaxation or meditation or even massage and physical therapy may help reduce your tension.

Depending on your symptoms, your dentist can also recommend specific treatments. For example, if you have bruxism, your dentist can fit you with a mouth guard to protect your teeth during sleep. For TMJ, your dentist may suggest some adjustment, including orthodontic treatment, to correct teeth alignment that may be magnifying orofacial pain. Check your benefits to see what treatments are covered under your plan.

Last updated December 14, 2021

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.