Every year the effects of poor oral health become further understood, with each new revelation showing how deeply connected our bodies are. Information gathered during the National Health, and Nutrition Examination Survey produced surprising results when it showed a connection between degrading oral health and depression, anxiety, stress, and loneliness. Below we’re going to explore the results and what’s understood about this link.
Poor Oral Health Can Be The Result, Or The Cause, Of Certain Mental Health Symptoms
How Oral Health and Mental Health Are Linked
The connection between depression, anxiety, and poor oral health can be easily understood when considering the effects of these mental health conditions. Depression and anxiety are commonly associated with difficulty in maintaining common routines, which can include maintaining good dental hygiene practices. However, these are just the beginning of the connections. Below we’ll go into a few specific examples and how poor oral health comes from them:
- Rising Cortisol Levels – The constant stress those with depression and anxiety experience results in the body to release increased amounts of the stress-related hormone cortisol. This hormone also serves to suppress the immune system making conditions like gingivitis and periodontal disease easier to contract.
- Reduced Saliva Production – Many of the medications used to treat anxiety and depression can cause dry mouth. Saliva serves an important role in fighting bacteria and keeping our teeth healthy; without it, plaque and tartar have an easier time setting in.
- Bruxism – A common result of patients experiencing consistent stress is the appearance of bruxism, or teeth grinding. Grinding our teeth can wear down the chewing surfaces and have a significant effect on the health of our enamel, and can even crack or fracture teeth in extreme cases.
- Uncontrolled Pain and Shame – As the health of teeth and gums decline, patients may experience discolored, broken, or lost teeth and significant pain. Shame and embarrassment over unhealthy teeth and ongoing untreated pain can lead to mental health symptoms like depression.
Oral health concerns have far-reaching implications for our overall health, including our mental health. The connections between the two are complex and often intertwined but are becoming better understood with ongoing research.
Some tortures are physical, and some are mental, but the one that is both is dental.
~ Ogden Nash
Other Health Concerns That Are Tied With Oral Health
Mental health concerns are just the most recently discovered element of our health that is tied directly or indirectly to dental health. Other health conditions that are known to have a link to dental health include heart disease, lung cancer, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and diabetes, just to name a few. While conversations around oral health have centered on maintaining a beautiful smile, mounting evidence reveals that oral health is indelibly tied to living a full and healthy life. A beautiful smile is just one more benefit of taking care of our teeth.