When patients think about their oral health, they usually know the basics: brush twice a day, floss every night, use mouthwash, and take regular trips to the dentist. While this is by no means incorrect, there’s much more to the story of dental health and hygiene. Few people realize that how well you take care of your body, including what you put into it, also plays a big role in your oral health – but even fewer understand the impact that your mental health can have on your oral health, and vice versa.
How Oral Health Effects Mental Health
The way that you take care of your gums and teeth can have a large impact on your mental health. Patients with poor oral health often experience feelings of shame or anxiety because of their appearance, which can lead to lower self-esteem, social anxiety, isolation, and ultimately, depression. Often times, patients are too embarrassed by the state of their oral health to visit the dentist, which creates more anxiety and puts the patient’s overall health in a downward spiral.
Oral health has also been linked to memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. If your gums become infected, they may become inflamed and release bacteria capable of killing brain cells and causing memory loss. Gingivitis and Periodontitis are the most common causes of this bacteria, but if these conditions are caught early enough, proper treatment will prevent the risk of damage to your mental health. This is why regular visits to your dentist are so critical to your overall health, not just your oral health. Other mental health conditions that could be related to your oral health include:
- Feelings of isolation
How Your Mental Health Impacts Your Oral Health
Just as your oral health impacts your mental health, the way that you take care of yourself psychologically can have large, lasting impacts on your teeth and gums. According to a study, patients with severe mental illness are 2.7 times more likely to lose all of their teeth, compared to those who don’t.
Patients who suffer from dental phobia experience an intense, irrational fear of visiting the dentist which can lead to prolonged periods between visits and, ultimately, oral health problems. Eating disorders, which themselves can be the result of a different mental health concern, can also lead to many oral health issues. For example, if the patient is consuming large amounts of sugary or acidic foods, they may experience. Other eating disorders, including bulimia and anorexia, can also lead to oral health concerns including tooth decay and calcium deficiencies. While these are just a few examples, there are several mental health issues that can lead to problems with your oral health. Some of the most common include:
- Dental Phobia
- Eating Disorders
- Depression & Schizophrenia
- Bipolar Disorder
- Substance Abuse
As you can see, there is a very intimate connection between your oral and mental health. How well you take care of your mouth can impact everything from your emotions to your social interactions, making regular trips to the dentist critical for your overall health.
Important note: If you feel you might be suicidal, and live in the United States, please call the Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255.
If it’s not an emergency, but you want to know more about mental health, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers information on their website https://www.nami.org/ and a free HELPLINE 800-950-6264.