stress tooth pain woman holding face

Can Stress Cause Tooth Pain?

Tooth pain can be caused by stress in a number of different ways. So to fully answer the question ‘can stress cause tooth pain?’, it is necessary to look at stress, pain and dental health in a fairly holistic way.

When you take the holistic view, it becomes apparent that there are numerous ways that stress can cause tooth pain. And there are multiple ways that teeth (and their related tissues) can become painful during times of stress.

The Many Ways A Tooth Can Hurt?

To fully explore the question ‘can stress cause tooth pain?’, it’s important to start with an understanding that not all tooth pain is actual tooth pain. The human nervous system is very complex, and you can easily feel pain in a body part when the problem is somewhere else. Headaches can come from neck problems, and leg pain can come from back problems.

So which tissue structures could potentially be involved in tooth pain caused by stress?

1. Tooth Pain In The Tooth

The most obvious cause of tooth pain is the tooth itself, and we all know that teeth can hurt if we have dental disease. If you have tooth pain caused by stress, it is likely happening in combination with dental disease, in which case the tooth will be the source of the pain.

2. Tooth Pain From The Roots

News flash, teeth have roots, and those roots are richly innervated with nerves. Anyone who has had root canal work can vouch for this. The abundance of nervous tissue in the root means that if you have tooth pain caused by stress, a problem with the roots could be causing it.

3. Tooth Pain Referred From The Temporomandibular Joint

A less common cause of tooth pain related to stress is pain referred from the jaw joint. The Temporomandibular joint is one of the body’s most complex joints and has a very rich nerve supply. Many people who suffer from stress develop Temporomandibular joint pain. A percentage of them feel the pain is in the tooth, not the Temporomandibular joint itself.

4. Tooth Pain Referred From The Jaw Bone

Teeth are buried deep in the jaw; therefore, there are instances where tooth pain can emanate from deep inside the jaw. An infection or some other disease process inside the jaw can cause pain in a tooth associated with stress.

5. Tooth Pain In The Trigeminal Nerve

The trigeminal nerve is the primary sensory nerve for the face, mouth and jaw. The trigeminal nerve starts under the base of the brain and spreads around to the front of the face, where it provides sensation to all the tissue structures around the face. A trigeminal nerve problem can very easily make you feel like you have tooth pain. 

6. Tooth Pain Referred From The Jaw Muscles

One of the most common symptoms of stress is muscle tension, and tension in the jaw is prevalent in people who are suffering from stress. Stress can cause tooth pain via the muscles of the jaw clenching. Either by damaging the teeth or sending referred pain signals to the teeth.

7. Tooth Pain From The Neck

The nervous system pathways that provide sensation to the neck have complex connections with the nerves that supply the teeth. In rare instances, tooth pain caused by stress can be ‘referred pain’ coming from a problem in the neck.

How Does Stress Cause The Various Kinds Of Tooth Pain?

There is almost no limit to the number of conditions that can be aggravated by and even directly caused by stress. We are so used to tooth pain being caused by sugar and dental cavities; however, it feels like it would be surprising if stress actually causes tooth pain. But the answer to the question ‘can stress cause tooth pain’ is a resounding Yes! But how is it possible that tooth pain can be caused by stress?

Surely stress doesn’t accelerate dental disease? Whilst we don’t necessarily know the answer to this as such, there are definitely a handful of mechanisms by which stress can cause tooth pain. 

stress tooth pain jaw clenching

Tooth Pain Caused By Stress – Clenching The Jaw

One of the most obvious ways that stress can cause tooth pain is via chronic jaw clenching, teeth grinding, or ‘bruxism‘. Clenching of the muscles in the neck and jaw is one of the most common symptoms of stress and anxiety. Yet the majority of stress and anxiety sufferers are not even aware that they have bruxism. 

When it comes to the damage caused by habitual jaw clenching, it is usually the muscles and jaw joint (TMJ) that suffer the most problems. However, a secondary layer of harm is suffered by the teeth themselves and their roots. 

People with a habit of teeth grinding suffer from wearing down of the enamel, which is kind of scary because tooth enamel is many times stronger than bone. Wearing of the enamel is a major clue to how stress can cause tooth pain. If the rock-hard enamel can be damaged by grinding, there must also be harm happening to the softer roots and other tooth structures.

Tooth Pain Caused By Stress – Immune Suppression

Almost all kinds of pain become more prevalent in people who are stressed, and tooth pain caused by stress is no exception. Pain caused directly by stress is either caused directly through increased sensitivity of the nervous system or by stubborn muscle spasms. 

It is also well documented that stress can cause suppression of the immune system. Persistent stress suppresses immunity to bugs, including those found in great numbers throughout the jaw, mouth and gums

If you have been very stressed for a period of time and have developed tooth pain, it is worth considering the possibility that you have a root infection or some similar issue. A small percentage of instances where stress causes tooth pain are due to the presence of an infection. Of course, if this does happen, you will never know for certain if it was stress that caused your tooth pain/infection, but it is entirely possible.

Tooth Pain Caused By Stress – Pain Centralisation

Stress is a well-known cause of pain. The majority of sudden onset musculoskeletal pains like back pain and shoulder pain are at least partly triggered by stress. And research shows that the worst chronic pains are almost always influenced heavily by mental health issues like stress.

The worst cases of pain caused by stress are magnified hugely by a principle known as ‘pain centralisation’. Pain centralisation is pain caused by stress which becomes exaggerated in the brain. 

In severe cases of pain centralisation, it is possible for a patient to feel pain from a light touch. It is possible to have a very mild back problem and to be crippled with pain. It is also possible that the question ‘can tooth pain be caused by stress’ should arise. For those with high stress levels and bad tooth pain, pain centralisation is well worth considering.

If you have been highly stressed for an extended period of time, and you have tooth pain, there could be a direct connection between the stress and the pain. Pain centralisation could easily play a role in this.

If you suspect you have stress that is bad enough to cause tooth pain centralisation, it’s important to get checked out by the dentist regardless. Then if the dentist cannot find an issue, pain centralisation becomes more likely, and you may wish to seek help from a chiropractor or osteopath.

Tooth Pain Caused By Stress – Sugar Addiction 

A very definite but somewhat indirect means by which stress causes tooth pain is from comfort eating lots of sweet foods. Given the well-known connections between sugar and dental disease, combined with the relationships between stress and overheating, it’s pretty logical.

There are very few of us who can claim that we have zero addictions. Addiction is definitely not confined to methamphetamine users and alcoholics; far from it. Sugar, mobile phones, coffee, television and video games are all legitimate addictions that impact billions of us. And the more stressed of us tend to be the most addicted. 

Addiction to sweet food may potentially be the number one addiction on the planet; It is, after all, an addiction that is sanctioned for both children and adults alike.

We probably don’t really need to go into the topic of sugar causing tooth decay; some health knowledge goes without saying. The connection between stress and food addiction is almost as well known. If stress causes you to eat a lot of sugar, then indirectly, stress can cause tooth pain. 

An indirect cause is still a cause!

stress tooth pain caused by sugar addiction

Tooth Pain Caused By Stress – What Do I Do Next.

Okay, so with google’s help, you have tentatively established that your tooth pain may be caused by stress. The obvious question is, what do you do next?

If your tooth pain is caused by stress, it’s important to understand that it doesn’t necessarily mean that your situation is a simple one. As we have seen, stress can cause tooth pain via numerous pathways. This means that if you have tooth pain caused by stress, you may well need the help of multiple professionals.

The dentist is obviously the logical first step if you suspect that stress is the cause of your tooth pain. Your dentist will be very happy to check your teeth to see if there are any kinds of dental diseases that could be contributing to your pain. X-rays are often necessary. If you have tooth pain that came about via chronic stress-related root infection, they would need to establish whether there is pain with infection in the nerve root. 

There are many instances where you can have tooth pain caused by stress, yet your dentist is unable to find anything wrong with your teeth. These instances make it far more probable that there is a connection between stress and tooth pain, for the various reasons discussed. In these cases, you should call someone else.

If you suspect you have tooth pain coming from the jaw, nerves, muscles or joint pain, it will be necessary to speak to a professional who specialises in musculoskeletal pain.

Osteopaths have an excellent track record for pain in the face, head and neck. Once you have the all-clear from the dentist, an osteopath will be able to explore your jaw muscles, your TMJ joint and possibly even your cranial bones to see if they could be causing tooth pain.

Chiropractors are experts in the diagnosis of muscle and joint pain, and they are also qualified in the mobilisation of spinal joints. A good chiropractor may well be able to identify the cause of tooth pain that is caused by stress. They do this by careful palpation and testing of the muscles and joints in the upper neck and jaw.

In rare instances, you may find yourself with tooth pain that may be caused by stress, yet neither the dentist, chiropractor or osteopath can provide any satisfactory answers or relief; it is worth considering the possibility that there is something more random or serious going on. Consulting with a neurologist and/or a maxillofacial surgeon may be warranted to conduct further tests. At that stage, it is most likely an MRI or CT scan may be warranted. Very few cases of tooth pain caused by stress escalate to this level.

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