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How Mental Illness Affects Your Oral Health

Oral health is a significant determinant of overall health, including mental health. Research reveals that people with mental diseases are 2.7 times more prone to poor oral health, and lose their teeth early. Mental and oral health share a two-way link; anxiety and panic are often associated with dental treatment.

Key takeaways:

On the other hand, numerous psychiatric diseases, including severe mental illness, mood disorders, and eating problems, are linked to dental decay. Read on to learn about how mental and oral health is interlinked.

Oral health is a window to your mental health. It provides a glimpse into the state of your mind. People with mental illnesses often have poor oral health, and vice versa. Depression, anxiety disorders, frequent panic attacks, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorders), and phobias are linked with greater chances of tooth decay and tooth loss over the years.

Meanwhile, dental pain and decay lead to low self-esteem and social isolation, contributing to a lower quality of life and disrupted mental health.

Stress and anxiety create extra cortisol, a stress hormone. Cortisol levels that are too high impair the immune system, increasing the risk of gum disease, oral sores, and infections.

How does mental illness affect oral health?

Worldwide, 792 million people currently suffer from some form of mental illness, and the numbers have only risen post-pandemic. Depending on your mental health status, the following oral conditions can appear, aggravate and worsen.

  • Gum health and periodontitis. Studies highlight a possible link between stress and periodontitis, owing to altered immunological response in the body. Long-standing stress and anxiety trigger the release of inflammatory mediators that often worsen the condition. Stress hormones like cortisol increase Porphyromonas gingivalis (a key microorganism associated with periodontitis). People in a stressful life are likely to smoke more, neglect proper oral hygiene, and miss out on routine dental checkups; all of which raise their risk of periodontitis.
  • Dental caries. Those suffering from mental illnesses are more likely to have dental decay due to insufficient self-care, such as toothbrushing and a bad diet. Other factors like a rise in cavity-causing organisms like Streptococcus mutans and lack of saliva flow often aggravate the dental caries process.
  • Dry mouth. Psychologically related eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia can cause a lack of saliva in the mouth, ultimately manifesting as xerostomia (a dry mouth). A dry mouth is a crucial factor behind oral inflammations. Certain antidepressant drugs can also cause dry mouth as a side effect.
  • Jaw pain. People with depressive symptoms often complain of facial and jaw pain. Jaw grinding is common among these people.
  • Tongue, cheek, and lip ulcers. Mental conditions can lead to eating disorders and nutritional deficiencies. Lip, tongue, and mucosal ulcers arise due to vitamin deficiencies. Aphthous ulcer is a common painful condition that is stress-related.
  • Tooth erosion. Teeth erosion is often noted among bulimia patients. Bulimia is a psychological eating disorder in which a person vomits purposefully to avoid gaining weight. 38% of patients with eating disorders suffer from tooth erosion. The regurgitated stomach acids are the main culprit behind this type of erosion.
  • Oral cancer. Long-term neglect of dental health and unrestricted indulging in alcohol and smoking can be a potential risk factors for oral cancers.

Can depression cause oral health problems?

Bad teeth often mirror a depressed person. Studies reveal that 46.2% of depressed people report tooth pain without apparent cause, also known as atypical odontalgia. Burning mouth syndrome — something frequent among middle-aged women — is another common oral condition among people suffering from depression.

Does oral health improve with mental health?

Dentists are often the first to diagnose oral conditions and whether they are related to any mental state.

Research shows that oral hygiene improves as people with psychological disorders seek professional help. They start taking care of their overall and oral health, and ultimately, oral inflammations and dental decay come under control.

Your mental health is very closely connected to your oral health. A dentist is often the first person to diagnose a relation between the both, and refer you to a therapist or a mental health specialist. Taking care of your mental health is vital to overcome related dental issues.

How to manage a balance?

Taking care of yourself is the key. Your mind and body are in sync- and taking care of one elevates the other.

  • Be aware. Watch for any signs of poor oral and mental health.
  • Maintain oral hygiene. Brush and floss regularly.
  • Exercise regularly. Studies reveal that exercise is a great way to release stress and elevate mood.
  • Proper diet. Eat a balanced and nutritious diet.
  • Seek professional help. Especially if you feel low or stressed.

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