We evaluated the association of stress,distress, and coping behaviors with periodontal disease in 1,426 subjects, aged 25 to 74, in Erie County, NY, Demographic characteristics, medical and dental history, and tobacco and alcohol consumption, as well as clinical assessments of supragingival plaque, subgingival flora, gingival bleeding, calculus, probing depth, clinical attachment level (CAL), and radiographic alveolar bone loss (ABL) were obtained for each subject. Subjects also completed a set of 5 psychosocial instruments that measured life events, daily strains, hassles and uplifts, distress, and coping behaviors. Internal consistencies of all subscales on the instruments were high, with Cronbach's alpha ranging from 0.88 to 0.99. Logistic regression indicated that financial strain was significantly associated with greater attachment and alveolar bone loss (OR 1.70; 95% CI, 1.09-2.65; and 1.68; 95% CI, 1.20-2.37, respectively) after adjusting for age, gender, and smoking. When those with financial strain were stratified with respect to coping behaviors, it was found that those who exhibited high emotion-focused coping (inadequate coping) had and even higher risk of having more severe attachment loss (OR 2.24; 95% CI, 1.15-4.38) and alveolar bone loss (OR 1.91; 95% CI, 1.15-3.17) than those with low levels of financial strain within the same coping group, after adjustment for age, gender, and cigarette smoking. After further adjusting for number of visits to the dentist, those with financial strain who were high emotion-focused copers still had higher levels of periodontal disease based on CAL (OR 2.12; 95% CI, 1.07-4.18). In contrast, subjects with high levels of financial strain who reported high levels of problem-based coping (good coping) had no more periodontal disease than those with low levels of financial strain. Salivary cortisol levels were higher in a test group exhibiting severe periodontitis, a high level of financial strain, and high emotion-focused coping, as compared to a control group consisting of those with little or no periodontal disease, low financial strain, and low levels of emotion-focused coping (11.04 +/-4.4 vs/ 8.6 +/- 4.1 nmol/L salivary cortisol, respectively). These findings suggest that psychosocial measures of stress associated with financial strain are significant risk indicators for periodontal disease in adults. Further prospective studies are needed to help establish the time course of stress, distress, and inadequate coping on the onset and progression of periodontal disease, as well as to evaluate the mechanisms by which stress exerts its effects on periodontal infections.