Anxiety can indirectly affect your teeth through increased jaw clenching, teeth grinding, heightened sensitivity, or inadequate oral care due to stress-induced neglect.
Tooth pain might not be the most obvious symptom of anxiety, yet there’s often a connection between the two.
In this article, learn more about the link between anxiety and tooth pain. We also cover symptoms to look out for and how to limit the effects of anxiety on your teeth.
Anxiety can indirectly contribute to tooth pain through the following mechanisms.
Anxiety often causes teeth grinding or clenching (bruxism). This pressure can lead to enamel wear, tooth fractures, and cracks, resulting in tooth sensitivity and sometimes radiating tooth pain. Some studies suggest higher bruxism rates among stressed individuals than among those without stress.
Salivary pH changes
Anxiety reduces saliva production, altering its pH balance and increasing mouth acidity. This can lead to tooth decay and heightened tooth sensitivity.
Increased pain sensitivity
Research suggests that stress-related conditions, such as anxiety, can heighten the body’s perception of pain. This can make you more sensitive to existing dental issues, like cavities or gum disease, resulting in increased discomfort.
Poor oral hygiene
High stress levels can lead to neglecting your oral hygiene, resulting in plaque buildup, gingivitis, and subsequent dental pain.
Gum disease aggravation
Some research suggests that stress significantly affects immune system functioning, including inflammation, wound healing, and responses to infections. This can potentially lead to inflamed gums and pain or discomfort.
When anxiety causes certain muscles in the head and neck, like the jaw muscles, to become tense or develop trigger points (localized muscle knots or spasms), the pain may radiate to seemingly unrelated areas, including the teeth.
Here are some signs that your toothache might be related to anxiety:
- jaw tension or clenching, especially during anxiety-inducing moments
- teeth grinding, particularly at night or in stressful situations
- evidence of wear or damage on your teeth due to stress-related behaviors
- a yellowish or translucent appearance of your teeth due to enamel erosion caused by stomach acid
- sudden onset of cavities, especially on the back teeth
- jagged edges or thinning of the teeth due to enamel wear
- increased pain during stressful periods
Treating tooth pain induced by anxiety often involves addressing both the dental issue and the underlying stress. Here are some approaches:
- Night guard or splints: For teeth grinding, a dentist might suggest using a night guard or splint to prevent further damage to the teeth caused by grinding during sleep.
- Dental treatment: Depending on the dental problem you have, like enamel erosion or cavities, treatments may include fillings, dental bonding, or procedures to restore enamel.
- Stress management: Techniques to reduce stress — such as relaxation exercises, meditation, or therapy — can help improve anxiety-induced tooth pain.
- Medications: Dentists or doctors may recommend pain relievers for temporary relief and, in some cases, medications to manage anxiety- or stress-related symptoms.
- Dental hygiene: Implementing a strict oral hygiene routine — including regular brushing, flossing, and using fluoride mouthwash — can minimize further damage.
It’s best to contact a dentist for tooth pain if you have:
- persistent pain, especially if toothache lasts longer than a day or two or if it’s severe or worsening
- sensitivity to temperature, such as very hot or very cold food
- gum swelling or bleeding accompanied by pain or sensitivity
- jaw pain, particularly if it’s accompanied by tooth pain, as this could indicate temporomandibular joint disorder
- injury to the mouth
- visible changes, such as a pimple-like bump on the gum, discolored spots on the tooth, or signs of damage
- referred pain, or pain radiating from another area, such as sinus pain mimicking a toothache
Anxiety can contribute to tooth pain through teeth grinding, heightened sensitivity, changes in pH balance, and even poor oral hygiene due to stress.
If you’re experiencing continuous tooth discomfort coupled with stress or anxiety, consider reaching out to a dentist to rule out any underlying dental problems.
Trying stress-relief techniques, getting regular dental checkups, and maintaining good oral hygiene are proactive measures you can take to help relieve anxiety-related tooth pain.