Yes, it’s true. Stress can make you lose your teeth.

Demi Moore confessed as much on the Jimmy Fallon Show. She showed him pictures of her missing two front teeth and said she had “sheered” them away. They both laughed at the picture, but it was no laughing matter.

The actress, who was once one of Hollywood’s most sought-after glamor gals, has since replaced the missing teeth with implants. However, before doing so, her toothless appearance raised questions about teeth and stress in general.

“I sheared off my front teeth,” Moore told The Tonight Show host. “I’d love to say it was [from] skateboarding or something really kind of cool, but I think it’s something that’s important to share because I think it’s literally, probably after heart disease, one of the biggest killers in in America, which is stress. Stress sheared off my front tooth.”

Can stress sheer off teeth? Not in and of itself. But dental experts have chimed in about the subject and listed several stress-related factors that can affect teeth as well as other body parts. When under stress, people tend to grind their teeth and this leads to teeth wearing away. The dental term for it is “bruxism.” Nervous tension, anger, anxiety and depression may cause people to develop bruxism without even knowing it. They are unconscious of their stress and its manifestations.

Another stress factor has to do with cortisol. Softpedia, a resource about teeth and dentistry online, wrote about the effects of cortisol on teeth. “One researcher revealed that higher amounts of cortisol can provoke increased destruction of the gums and jaw bone due to periodontal diseases.” Softpedia went on to point out that “untreated periodontal diseases (periodontitis) ultimately induce bone loss or tooth loss.”

Also, with regard to teeth, experts talk about plaque. People who are stressed out (due to anxiety or depression) tend not to brush their teeth regularly. This leads to plaque build-up on the teeth and, according to dental research, this in turn leads to the bacteria that causes periodontal disease, which then releases toxins into the bloodstream and helps to form fatty plaques in the arteries. These plaque deposits can result in serious problems, such as blood clots, which can block blood flow and be a risk factor for heart attacks.

Obviously, Demi Moore did not have to share such an intimate and unflattering detail from her life. She is a glamorous actress and is to be congratulated for taking this action. She did so because she knows that actors are models and she hoped to raise awareness of the many problems, even unlikely problems like missing teeth that can result from stress.

Up until the late 1960s, physicians did not properly understand the relationship between stress and illness. Some still don’t. Then, in 1967, Holmes and Rahe published their Social Readjustment Scale and along came pioneering research that proved a link between stress and illness. Later, in the 1970s, Holmes and Rahe did subsequent research in which they surveyed 2,500 US sailors and asked them to rate scores of stressful events’ over the previous six months while, at the same time, the authors kept detailed records of the sailors’ health. There was a +0.118 correlation between stress scale scores and illness, which meant there was a significant link between stressful life events and illness.

Since then much research has been done linking stress with illness. When it was discovered that stressed-out people secrete glucose, the link between stress and diabetes was explained. Next, research showed that chronic stress weakens the immune system and that discovery led to the realization that stress exacerbates all illnesses, whether they are genetic or not. Friedman showed the connection between stress and heart disease.

There are also psychosomatic disorders in which stress becomes manifest in an imagined physical problem, such as imagining you have skin cancer when you actually only have a rash due to nerves or the development of hysterical blindness or paralysis. Then there are disorders in which stress is linked with real physical disorders such as migraine headaches. Unfortunately, even today many doctors still do not understand the urgency and implications of psychological stress.

A documentary by Robert Sapolsky called, “Stress: Portrait of a Killer,” explored stress in a tribe of baboons in Africa. Sapolsky took the blood of members of the tribe to examine the amounts of stress hormones in their blood, with interesting results. The top male and the top female had the least amount of stress hormones, while the runts of the tribe had the most amounts of stress hormones. This study pointed the way to other research that showed that one’s position in a company or in a society played into how much they suffered from stress.

When Demi Moore spoke on television about her lost teeth and connected it to stress, she was talking about more than her own teeth. She was talking about everybody’s teeth and, more important, about everybody’s lives.

Demi Moore’s teeth are hence an important starting point for understanding the psychology and physiology of stress. Because Demi Moore’s teeth belong to Demi Moore, a glamorous movie star, they are more than teeth. They are symbols of something that can happen to you whether you are a queen or a sweeper of streets. They prove there are not only “tooth fairies” but also “tooth demons.”