The connection between your mouth and your mind is a powerful one. You know that daily dental care is necessary to keep your teeth and gums healthy. However, did you also know that taking care of your oral health can help you ward off mental illness and maintain your overall health and well-being?
Understanding this two-way association can help you feel and look your best. Today, we’re taking a closer look at how your oral health and mental health are intrinsically linked.
Mental Illness and Oral Health
Researchers have long studied the effects of mental illness on one’s physical health. From anxiety to depression, these conditions can catalyze a range of symptoms, including:
- Weight gain.
- Sleep disturbances.
- Cardiovascular problems.
However, a lesser-known fact is that mental health conditions can also lead to oral health issues. People with mental illness, especially severe illness, are more at risk of developing these problems due to poor oral hygiene habits.
Behavioral and Environmental Factors
There are many behavioral and environmental factors that can cause someone with a mental illness to lose focus on their personal care, including their dental routine. These include:
- Following an unhealthy diet.
- Increased consumption of sugary drinks.
- Brushing and flossing at irregular intervals.
- Substance abuse and self-medicating (e.g. tobacco, alcohol, psychostimulants).
- Skipping dental visits.
- Financial barriers to dental care.
All of these issues can lead to nutritional deficiencies, which can result in dental caries, dental erosion, periodontal disease, or even tooth loss.
In some instances, they can also lead to negative, tooth-harming behaviors, such as teeth grinding (bruxism). Anxiety is one mental condition closely associated with bruxism, which can arise from either a lack of oral care or as a side effect of medication.
In addition to what’s going on around you, there’s also a change happening within you when your mental health declines. When you’re in the throes of anxiety or depression, your body experiences a surge in cortisol, which is one of your main stress hormones. Increases in cortisol put a strain on your immune system and compromise its function.
This lessens your defense against periodontal pathogens, negatively affecting your oral microbiome. When harmful microorganisms are allowed to thrive without adequate control, it can leave you vulnerable to a range of mouth conditions, including gingivitis and periodontitis.
Many of these problems are also compounded by another side effect of many forms of mental illness—dry mouth.
A common symptom of anxiety, dry mouth (xerostomia) is also a noted side effect of many antipsychotic medications. When your body doesn’t produce enough saliva to rinse away food and debris, you can become more vulnerable to decay and disease, including dental caries.
The Mental Effects of Poor Dental Health
So far, we’ve discussed one direction of the oral health/mental health relationship. Those suffering from mental illness are often less likely to maintain a consistent oral hygiene routine. This can lead to dental issues that serve to further deepen their affliction.
Yet, it’s also important to realize that the link works the other way, too. Your mental health might be optimal until you experience a severe dental setback. Yet, the effects of the condition can be significant enough to trigger anxiety, depression, or a range of other conditions.
This association is made clear by several clinical studies. In one study, researchers followed 35 patients diagnosed with chronic periodontitis. They asked each patient to self-report their level of depression based on a 21-statement assessment. Each question was given a range of 0 to 3, with 3 being the strongest.
They found that there was a strong, positive correlation between the severity of each patient’s periodontal disease and their depression rating. In addition to depression, other scholarly reviews have established a link between periodontitis and other mood conditions, including:
Beyond causing you to feel anxious or depressed about your physical appearance, dental conditions can also lead to social issues. In turn, these can take a toll on your mental health.
For instance, if you experience tooth loss of any kind, it can affect your speech, as well as make it difficult to eat. The same goes for loose, damaged, or decayed teeth. These conditions can make social situations more difficult, which can exacerbate anxiety. Bad breath is another side effect of poor dental health. Those suffering from this condition could feel a similar sense of isolation or social outcasting.
In one study that researched the emotional effects of tooth loss, researchers found that 45% of participants cited feeling:
- Less confident about themselves.
- More likely to feel inhibited while carrying out daily activities.
- Less able to accept the facial changes associated with tooth loss.
Participants also reported feelings of sadness and depression, as well as a feeling that they’d “lost part of themselves.” The takeaway? Dental conditions are more than just skin-deep. They can also have wide-reaching implications that affect your mental health and stability.
Optimizing Your Oral and Mental Health
From these points, it’s easy to see why it’s so important to prioritize your oral health. When you take care of your teeth and gums at home, you’re actually helping to keep your whole body and mind healthy!
Remember to brush and floss two times a day and stay up-to-date on all of your dentist visits. With these simple steps, you can take a proactive approach to help prevent dental conditions from forming! If there is a problem present, your dentist can identify it more quickly and take swift action to minimize any damage.
Your Team For Lifelong Dental Care
At our office, we take your oral health as seriously as you do! We know that excellent dental hygiene doesn’t just keep your smile bright, it also improves your mental health and allows you to live life to the fullest.