It is not uncommon for the mind and the body to be treated as two separate entities, but scientific research throughout history has strongly supported the real connection between them. Among the many connections, the one that often surprises people is the link between oral health and mental health.
Before delving into this, it is important to make clear that poor oral hygiene and mental health do not signify moral failure, and therefore feeling guilty or ashamed has no footing. In this article, the connection between mental health and oral health will be introduced. If you are struggling with these issues, the instructions and resources may be helpful.
Like many relationships, the connection between oral and mental health goes both ways. On the one hand, mental health may affect the willingness to keep up with the dental hygiene routine or to seek dental care. People with poor mental health are more than three times as likely to rate their oral health as poor as those with good mental health, according to the survey, the State of Oral Health Equity in America 2021, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), a nonpartisan research organization at the University of Chicago. Sixty-nine percent of respondents reported unmet oral health needs, and of those who self-assessed good mental health, 47 percent sought oral care, while only 31 percent of respondents with poor mental health went to the dentist to address their symptoms. On the other hand, poor oral health can have an important impact on personal image, leaving people trapped in negative emotions such as low self-esteem and anxiety, and ultimately affecting their mental health.
How does mental health affect oral health?
Low energy. People with depression or other mood disorders often experience symptoms such as fatigue or loss of motivation. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, performing basic tasks like brushing and flossing can become difficult. Sometimes, you may also be too tired to prepare meals, which can lead to poor eating habits and even malnutrition.
Malnutrition. If you suffer from some mental illness, you may not feel like eating, and you may also eat or drink too many sugary snacks or drinks. If you do this, you feel good for a while, but at the cost of the risk of cavities. People who are malnourished may have low calcium levels, which can weaken the enamel on the surface of their teeth. Some eating disorders, such as bulimia, can cause people with the condition to vomit after eating, and their throat, teeth, and mouth may be damaged.
Heavy pressure. Everyone reacts to stress differently. For some people, a lot of stress can lead to trouble sleeping, acne and stomach aches. In terms of dental health, chronic severe tooth grinding and jaw clenching
can eventually lead to tooth damage. Others may unconsciously reduce stress by actively brushing their teeth, but this can lead to sensitive teeth and receding gums.
Fear and anxiety. Nearly half of patients are anxious about dental care. While it is normal to feel anxious from time to time, people with mental illnesses such as social anxiety may feel a high level of fear or anxiety about going to the dentist and avoid regular visits, despite their urgent need to seek care for problems such as toothache or infection, causing their oral health to deteriorate.
Binge drinking. Some people drink heavily due to factors such as stress and anxiety. However, heavy drinking can harm teeth. Abuse of alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco can all lead to tooth erosion and decay. Over time, you may even get oral cancer.
Dry mouth or burning mouth syndrome. Some medications used to treat mental illness, such as antidepressants, can cause side effects such as the dry mouth and increase the risk of gum disease. One of the symptoms of burning mouth syndrome is usually a chronic burning sensation on your tongue, the roof of your mouth, and the inside of your cheeks, which causes you to have to endure frequent pain.
How does oral health affect mental health?
Oral health can have a significant impact on an individual’s confidence and self-image. There has been a systematic investigation examining the relationship between poor oral health and common psychological disorders (e.g., diagnosed depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or phobias). The study showed a significant association between common mental health disorders and tooth loss and that person with poor oral health are more likely to suffer from mood disorders than those with good oral health. While poor body image itself is not a mental illness, it can negatively affect a person’s overall health in the long run.
Individuals who experienced tooth decay, and missing and filling surfaces had higher rates of common psychological disorders than the control group. Overall, there is a relationship between poor oral health (e.g. chronic periodontitis, tooth erosion) and some mental illnesses.
In terms of oral health, embarrassing situations such as sore teeth, missing teeth, bad breath, or plaque on the surface can affect many important areas of social life. For example, people who experience mouth pain or missing teeth may have trouble communicating at work or in social situations. They tend to be unhappy with their smiles, which can affect their self-esteem and make it difficult for them to maintain close relationships with others. People who are embarrassed by the appearance of their teeth tend to avoid smiling with their mouths open and speak quietly or minimally in public in an attempt to hide their teeth.
Compared to the general population, these individuals who are at greater risk of tooth decay and tooth loss are likely to end up with social isolation and low self-esteem due to more frequent pain experiences and the lack of pleasure, motivation, and confidence, reducing their quality of life and eventually developing depression and anxiety.
In addition, in recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on people’s oral and mental health: dental clinics have been closed for extended periods, elective dental procedures have been postponed, and access to preventive care has been delayed. Many groups were disproportionately affected by the outbreak, including populations with poor oral health. There is evidence that they lack income and health insurance and underutilize dental care so that they later suffer from negative emotions such as stigma, helplessness, fear, anxiety, and experience mental health disorders.
Some tips for building better relationships between oral health and mental health
After knowing a little about the connection between oral care and mental health, you can take the time to learn about steps you can take to build a better relationship between the two.
Maintain good oral care habits. First, brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, or you can floss or use an interdental brush to clean between your teeth. Second, reduce your intake of nicotine, alcohol, sugary foods, and drinks. Third, maintain a healthy and balanced diet. Last but not least, visit your dentist regularly. If your medication causes dry mouth, try mints that contain xylitol. Xylitol is a natural sweetener that not only helps make more saliva but also prevents plaque and tooth decay.
Take proactive steps to improve your mental health and well-being. Make it a habit to participate in physical activities. It can change the chemicals in your brain and help improve your mood. Make an effort to build relationships with other people, as good relationships can give you a sense of belonging and increase your sense of self-worth. (You can have lunch with a colleague, take a walk with a friend, talk to your family at dinner, or volunteer in your community.)
Make your oral care routine fun and easy to follow. Use pleasurable oral care products, play your favorite music while brushing your teeth, think about the things in your life that you’re grateful for and that make you happy, or stand in front of the mirror and say positive words of affirmations out loud to yourself before you brush your teeth (try phrasing your affirmations in the present tense instead of using phrases like “will be,” “could be,” or “should be,” For example “I am freeing myself from all destructive fears and doubts”).
Take steps to ease anxiety during dental visits. Instead of going through tough challenges in life alone, you can bring along a friend for spiritual
comfort. Be frank with your dentist about your doubts and nervousness about your upcoming appointment. During the visit, you can wear headphones to reduce the impact of noise from dental tools and the environment on your mood.
Both your oral health and your mental health are important to living a happy life, so try to combine these techniques to make you healthier and happier. It is commendable to share this article with others to spread knowledge about the connection between oral and mental health so that more people can benefit from it.
Keep in mind that if you want to seek help with your mental health, we encourage you to check out the resources provided by Mental Health America or call Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Considering your dental health, you should make sure to visit your dentist regularly. In addition, if you would like advice on buying your toothbrush and toothpaste, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are at your service.