The Impact of Mental Health on Oral Health
If you’ve been reading our dental education posts, you’re aware that we’ve explored the connection and importance of good oral hygiene and how important it is to our overall physical health. How our physical health can affect oral health and our oral hygiene can negatively impact health overall. Today, we’re going to dive into the mind-body connection, how our mental health also plays a role in our oral health. Read on to learn more.
How does the mind affect the body?
Your body responds to the way you think, feel, and act. When you are stressed, anxious, or upset, your body reacts in a way that might tell you that something isn’t right. For example, you might develop high blood pressure or a stomach ulcer after a particularly stressful event, such as the death of a loved one. The mind-body connection has been explored for decades, how they work in tandem together. Athletes use the mind-body connection to perform better, and we now know that a person who is stressed and anxious has a higher change of developing disease. Those with anxiety or other forms of mental illness often develop other disease either as a result of this connection or their inability to care for themselves.
How does anxiety/mental health affect oral health?
In the case of oral health, one’s mental health may interfere with their ability to provide themselves with proper oral care, or hygiene leading to poor oral health.
What types of mental illness can affect oral health?
One of the most common mental illnesses is dental phobia also known as dental anxiety, odontophobia, or dentophobia. They all mean the same thing: an intense fear of visiting the dentist for dental care. This isn’t the same as being anxious and fearful of going to the dentist. The reason this falls under the mental health umbrella is this condition is an all-out phobia meaning the fear isn’t rational and the person who has it is aware of that but can’t change it. People with dental phobia aren’t merely anxious. They are terrified or panic stricken.
According to Colgate.com, people with dental phobia have a higher risk of gum disease and early tooth loss. Avoiding the dentist may have emotional costs as well. Discolored or damaged teeth can make people self-conscious and insecure. They may smile less or keep their mouths partly closed when they speak. Some people can become so embarrassed about how their teeth look that their personal and professional lives begin to suffer. There is often a serious loss of self-esteem.
People with dental phobia also may suffer from poorer health in general, and even lower life expectancy. This is because poor oral health has been found to be related to some life-threatening conditions, such as heart disease, lung infections and even increased risk of dementia as we’ve discussed before in a previous post about periodontal disease and health risks.
There are varying degrees of dental anxiety and phobia. At the extreme, a person with dental phobia may never see a dentist. Others may force themselves to go, but they may not sleep the night before. It’s not uncommon for people to feel sick — or, in some cases, to actually get sick — while they’re in the waiting room.
Other common mental illnesses that can have a negative impact on a person’s oral health include: anxiety and panic attacks, depression, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), self-harm, schizophrenia and psychosis.
According to the Oral Health Foundation, some of the main oral health issues for those suffering with mental illness include:
- Neglect: Research has shown that those suffering from mental illnesses tend to avoid dental care so much that their oral hygiene is neglected. This can result in gum disease and tooth decay.
- Anxiety: As discussed above, people suffering from some form of dental phobia, stop seeing their dentist regularly. Infrequent dental visits have a severe impact on oral health.
- Eating disorders: Those who suffer from conditions such as Bulimia often experience dental erosion as vomit is extremely acidic. Low levels of calcium and improper nutrition in anorexia are also common, and can affect the health of the teeth.
- Brushing actions: Over-vigorous brushing actions by those with bipolar, OCD, or similar disorders could result in brushing away the enamel on the surface of the tooth.
- Medication: Some medications for mental health such as antidepressants may produce adverse oral effects, especially dry mouth, (link back to post on dry mouth), reducing saliva flow making the mouth more acidic. You can learn more about dry mouth here in a previous post.
It is important to be aware of the link between oral health and mental health. If you suffer from anxiety or have another mental health disorder that keeps you from visiting your dentist, please let us know or speak to your doctor about ways of coping.