Can Stress Cause Gum Disease?

Chronic stress can have a negative effect on your mood, digestive system, and your cardiovascular health but can it cause gum disease? Gum disease is triggered by plaque bacteria but other factors including stress can contribute to its development and worsen its progression.

While stress itself does not directly cause gum disease, stress can modify your behaviour and affect hormones, your immune system and even saliva flow to the mouth which can all affect the progression of gum disease. Let’s take a closer look. 

can stress cause gum disease

Stress Increases Your Risk For Gum Disease

Here are some of the ways stress can impact the health of your gums:

Stress Increases Inflammation

When you get stressed, your body makes more of the stress hormone called cortisol. This hormone can help your immunity by reducing inflammation, but only for a short time. When you’re constantly stressed, your body gets too much cortisol leading to more inflammation. This further weakens the gums and makes them more susceptible to damage from bacteria.

Stress Weakens The Immune System

Chronic stress also lowers your lymphocytes, which are the white blood cells that fight infections. With fewer lymphocytes, you’re less likely to be able to fight the bacteria causing gum disease.

Stress Affects The Oral Microbiome

Research has shown that stress, whether it’s short-term or long-term, can change the mix of bacteria in your mouth (1). They found that cortisol, which is secreted in our saliva, alters how the genes of the plaque bacteria in your mouth function or behave. This change can make these bacteria act in a way similar to what happens in gum disease. The type of bacterial species found may shift more towards the bad bacteria that cause gum disease (2).

Stress May Increase Inflammation In The Mouth

As well as increasing the amount of cortisol found in the saliva, test models have shown that levels of protein, including those involved in fighting diseases like immunoglobulin A (IgA) are altered when we are stressed. A connection has been made between inflammation and these higher levels (3).

Stress Alters Blood and Saliva Flow To The Gums

Stress can alter the blood flow in the gums and change saliva’s flow impacting the health of periodontal tissues.

Stress Changes Behaviour

Stress can trigger behaviours that negatively impact oral hygiene, such as neglecting dental care. This neglect can lead to plaque accumulation and periodontal tissue damage.

Furthermore, stress can influence dietary choices, leading to an increased intake of refined carbohydrates and softer diets, which can promote plaque build-up and periodontal issues.

Stress can lead to harmful oral habits like smoking, which worsens periodontal conditions due to effects like vasoconstriction and impaired immune responses.

Stress Reduces Wound Healing

Stress can impair wound healing in the oral cavity by affecting the immune response and cytokine production, which are crucial for repairing tissues.

Beat Gum Disease Now

How To Manage Stress And Reduce Your Risk Of Gum Disease 

While stress does not directly cause gum disease, it can be a contributing factor, especially when it persists for an extended period. Therefore, managing stress effectively can help protect your oral health and reduce the risk of developing or worsening gum disease.

Here are some tips for managing stress:

Identify Stress Triggers: Recognize the situations, activities, or thoughts that tend to trigger your stress. This will help you avoid or manage them more effectively.

Practice Relaxation Techniques: Engage in activities that promote relaxation, such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, or spending time in nature.

Get Sufficient Sleep: Adequate sleep is crucial for overall health, including stress management. Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night.

Maintain a Healthy Diet: Eating nutritious foods provides your body with the nutrients it needs to function optimally, including supporting your immune system.

Engage in Regular Physical Activity: Exercise is a great way to release endorphins, which have mood-boosting and stress-reducing effects. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. You may think you don’t have time but getting out for a shirt break can boost your productivity making getting tasks done quicker. 

How To Treat Gum Disease

Make Oral Hygiene a Priority

As well as reducing stress, one of the most important things you can do is make looking after yourself and your oral hygiene a priority. 

Try and brush the teeth twice a day ideally with an electric toothbrush and a toothpaste containing fluoride for 2 minutes. 

If you struggle to remember because you’re just so busy, why not try these techniques

  • Clean your teeth at the same time as the children
  • Take 2 minutes out before you sit down at the computer for a long night finishing that report that’s due on your boss’s desk first thing in the morning
  • Set an alarm clock that reminds you to put your work down – don’t ignore it!
  • Brush your teeth in the shower
  • Play your favourite tunes whilst you brush
  • Put your toothbrush in the kitchen and clean them while you make a cup of tea
  • Place the floss on your desk or at the kitchen table to remind you
  • Try just using a dry brush (you don’t need toothpaste to remove plaque – but it helps) in bed, whilst watching TV, or just whenever you can face it and build up your oral hygiene from there.

Try and Develop Healthy Habits

Also try to stop smoking, eat a healthy diet, reduce your alcohol consumption and get enough sleep – all these things can have a positive impact on your general and oral health. 

Seek Professional Help

Book an appointment with a dentist for a professional hygiene appointment. If money is a worry or you can’t find a dentist take a look at our groundbreaking guide Gum Disease: Solved.  We tell you how to beat gum disease at home. 

You can also find other great tips and advice on our home page. 

In summary, stress has a significant impact on periodontal health, influencing it through endocrine changes, behavioural modifications, immune responses, and wound-healing processes. 

By managing stress effectively, you can improve your overall health, including your oral health, and reduce your risk of developing or worsening gum disease

Beat Gum Disease Now


  1. Gur TL, Worly BL, Bailey MT. Stress and the commensal microbiota: importance in parturition and infant neurodevelopment. Front Psychiatry. 2015 Feb 2;6:5. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2015.00005. PMID: 25698977; PMCID: PMC4313583. Available here:
  2. Duran-Pinedo AE, Solbiati J, Frias-Lopez J. The effect of the stress hormone cortisol on the metatranscriptome of the oral microbiome. NPJ Biofilms Microbiomes. 2018 Oct 18;4:25. doi: 10.1038/s41522-018-0068-z. PMID: 30345066; PMCID: PMC6194028. Available here:
  3. Segerstrom SC, Miller GE. Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. Psychol Bull. 2004 Jul;130(4):601-30. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.130.4.601. PMID: 15250815; PMCID: PMC1361287. Available here:

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Written by Sharon Fyles

Periodontitis Expert & Writer

Sharon Fyles, BSc (Hons, SW), MSc, Dip,  is a Manchester-based expert dental writer specialising in periodontal diseases and their treatment.


Medically Reviewed and Verified by Dr. Gareth Edwards BDS (Hons), MFDS (RCPS Glasgow)

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