Can Stress Cause Toothaches?
Whether it’s a throbbing sensation around your gums, or a sharp pain if you bite, a toothache is one of the most frustrating pains you can have. A minor toothache might go away after you take a pain relief tablet. Or it might be severe enough for you to require an emergency dentist appointment or a visit to A&E.
Many people have been left wondering “can stress cause toothaches?” and we are here to tell you that without a doubt, stress can cause and aggravate a toothache. When we are stressed, we often subconsciously clench our jaws. This puts pressure on your jaw muscles, so you develop aches and pains in your teeth as a result.
Symptoms of stress can be felt all over our bodies. When something in your life triggers acute stress, your brain sends a distress signal to the brain’s command centre, which activates a “fight or flight” response. Your heart starts to race, your hands become clammy and you may experience shortness of breath. You might also tend to hold more tension in your jaw, which could bring on a stress toothache.
Similarly, with chronic stress, where you have been under stress for a longer period of time, this could also bring on a toothache. Chronic stress often brings on symptoms including tension headaches, migraines, anxiety and depression. At night, during sleep, a lot of people under chronic stress also grind their teeth. Teeth grinding (which is called bruxism) wears down the surface of the teeth, so this could bring on or worsen a toothache.
If left untreated, a toothache induced by stress could lead to more problems with your oral hygiene.
Can Stress Cause Toothaches and What Oral Health Issues Can It Cause?
Stress toothaches can lead to tooth decay, where areas of the hard surface of your teeth are permanently damaged by bacteria in your mouth, sugary drinks and improper cleaning.
Research has shown that mouth ulcers can be brought on by anxiety and stress. Mouth ulcers can be caused by damage to the mouth, e.g. by biting the cheek. They usually heal within two weeks without scarring, but you should see a doctor if you have had a mouth ulcer for more than three weeks.
A stress toothache could also lead to gingivitis, which is inflammation of the gums. It often results in swelling and bleeding of the gums, which are irritated by the build-up of plaque.
Periodontitis could also develop if your dental infection becomes severe. This is the advanced stage of gum disease, unlike gingivitis, which can be reversed. Periodontal disease occurs if gingivitis is untreated, so the plaque builds up above and below the gum line. As the bone starts to erode, teeth start to become loose and fall out.
Teeth grinding (bruxism) brought on by chronic stress can also result in tooth fractures and cracks. The condition weakens the teeth’ enamel, which can cause sensitivity to the teeth. Over time, the teeth can become more eroded and damaged, while also causing headaches and joint pain.
Bruxism can also affect infants and toddlers as their teeth come in.
Burning Mouth Syndrome
Burning Mouth Syndrome is a condition where you feel burning pain or hot sensation on your lips, tongue or gums. It can also carry symptoms such as dryness, numbness or unpleasant taste.
It is caused by nerves malfunctioning and can worsen in times of stress, or eating hot or spicy foods. Some patients with Burning Mouth Syndrome have a history of depression or anxiety, so stress is a psychological factor that can lead to the condition.
How to Deal With Stress-Induced Toothaches
- Try over-the-counter medications such as Paracetamol and Ibuprofen, which will provide short-term pain relief. Always leave four hours between each dosage.
- Do not take aspirin if you are bleeding from the mouth.
- Rinse your mouth with a glass of warm water (around 100ml) and a teaspoon of salt, to get rid of bacteria inside the mouth.
- Apply a cold compress to your jaw. You can hold an ice pack, bag of frozen peas of a cold washcloth filled with crushed ice to your cheek for a few minutes. This will help reduce swelling and ease inflammation.
- Switch to a soft food or liquid diet for a few days, with foods such as soup, mashed potatoes, porridge and smoothies. These softer foods are easier to chew and are less likely than harder foods to irritate the gums.
- If you have gum disease, try an antimicrobial mouthwash with fluoride for cavity protection.
- If you develop a mouth ulcer, try an over-the-counter gel, ointment, spray, or dentist-prescribed steroid tablets.
- If you grind your teeth at night time, wear a mouth guard or gum shield. This product will provide a barrier to protect your teeth from tooth wear and gum recession.
- Peppermint tea is an excellent home remedy that can soothe a stressed toothache. The ingredient contains menthol, which has numbing properties. Boil water and pour it over a peppermint tea bag. Once the tea bag is completely cool, place it on the area of your mouth where you are experiencing pain for 20 minutes.
How to Prevent Stress Toothaches
- Recognise your stress triggers and find coping mechanisms to adapt, whether that is mediating, doing breathing exercises or making time for social activities.
- Speak to your GP and look into seeking support from the NHS if you are struggling.
- Maintain a healthy, balanced diet to boost your immunity and prevent chronic diseases.
- Exercise and physical activity reduce stress, so take regular walks, hit the gym or try a home workout.
- Quit smoking, as smokers are at higher risk of developing tooth decay, gum diseases and mouth cancer.
- Avoid chewing gum- many are high in sugar and can wear away at your enamel by causing tooth decay and cavities.
- Avoid very hot drinks, or acidic drinks such as fruit juice, as these can stain your teeth or irritate the enamel.
- Do some facial exercises if you have a tendency to grind your teeth (bruxism). Relaxing and unclenching your jaw muscles will ease the tension you are storing there.
Can Lack of Sleep Cause a Stress Toothache?
Yes, research has shown that sleep deficiency can be a risk factor for Periodontitis, as patients who suffer from sleep deprivation are at an increased risk of inflammation in the gums. If you are not getting enough sleep, your body produces more inflammatory hormones, which increases your risk of gum disease.
Lack of sleep weakens your immune system, and a healthy immune system is needed for stronger teeth and gums.
What Is Phantom Bite Syndrome?
Phantom Bite Syndrome is a condition where patients report that their ‘bite is wrong’, which causes them great distress and difficulties. Because they think their bite is the root of their problems, they end up getting multiple types of treatment from various dentists and specialists. They may believe that their bite is causing them to have severe neck and shoulder problems or balance problems and this may stem from doing lots of Internet research on dental problems. These patients may undergo many clinical examinations to try and diagnose the problem.
What Is Atypical Odontalgia?
Atypical Odontalgia is chronic pain in teeth after tooth extraction or endodontic treatment. It often comes with a constant throbbing, with pain that worsens after chewing, biting, or having hot or cold drinks. There might not be an identifiable cause for the condition, so medications or more dental treatment might be needed to reduce the level of pain. But the pain may not be completely eliminated.
Should I Tell My Dentist if I Have Depression or Anxiety?
If you feel comfortable, then you can tell your dentist if you are experiencing symptoms of depression. A clinical study has found that those suffering from sadness, helplessness and other symptoms of depression, are almost 20% more likely to also have severe gum disease.
This is because neglecting oral hygiene could occur amongst people with depressive disorders, while being on medication for depression may also negatively impact on the mouth’s ability to produce saliva.
Some people with anxiety disorders struggle to attend the dentist, so they are not getting regular check-ups to check their teeth and mouth are healthy. So, telling your dentist about your medical history will help you get the right care and treatment to improve your health and well-being.
How to Maintain a Good Oral Hygiene Routine
- Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes
- Floss daily to get rid of plaque and trapped food
- Use a good mouthwash to neutralize cavity-causing bacteria and prevent gum disease
- Reduce your intake of sugary food and drinks- you can limit these to meal times only
- Avoid unnecessary snacking
- Have a check-up at the dentist every six months, so they can spot problems quickly and offer you the best care
- If you do have a stress toothache, mention it to your dentist and see what advice and solutions they can recommend