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Mental-Dental: What’s the Connection Between Oral Health and Mental Health?

April 7th is World Health Day, and this year’s focus is on mental health.

A cyclical relationship exists between oral and mental health. Good oral health can enhance mental and overall health, while poor oral health can exacerbate mental issues–and mental conditions can likewise cause oral health issues.

At Penn Dental Family Practice, we strive to provide education, awareness, and treatment for health conditions everyday. But on this special occasion, we’d like to draw attention to an issue that many patients and members of the public are unaware even exists: the connection between oral health and mental health.

mental dental healthIt’s an issue that–even within the medical and scientific community–is little understood in terms of details and consistent trends. What is certain, meanwhile, is that mental health has a direct connection to overall health.

This relationship between overall health and mental health is a cyclical one; patients with mental health issues are less likely to take proper care of their physical health. Neglected physical health impairs emotional and mental health, in turn, as the body becomes deprived of the nutrition, activity, and healthy habits that yield good mental health. Furthermore, poor physical health is harmful to self-image, self-esteem, and self-worth–all of which greatly impair mental wellness.

This is certainly the case with dental and mental health: the connection between them is direct, cyclical and–when oral health is neglected–detrimental. Good oral health and healthy dental habits, meanwhile, can enhance overall health, including mental health.

Poor Mental Health → Poor Dental Health

Though research on the connection between oral health and mental health is relatively new and limited, studies have suggested numerous effects that mental health issues have on oral wellness, including:

  • Depression is associated with higher abuse of alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco, which may cause tooth erosion and decay.
  • Depression often causes self-neglect, which often results in poor oral hygiene and consequential tooth decay.
  • Bipolar affective disorder often causes over-brushing that may damage gums and cause dental abrasion, mucosal lacerations, or gingival lacerations.
  • Bipolar patients treated with lithium have a higher rate of xerostomia and stomatitis.
  • Acids from vomiting makes patients with eating disorders more susceptible to tooth decay.
  • Side effects of antipsychotic, antidepressant, and mood stabilizer drugs may include a higher susceptibility to oral bacterial infections.

Poor Dental Health → Poor Mental Health

Interestingly, the connection also goes the other way.  Your dental hygiene can also affect your mental health. For example:

  • Poor dental health affects speech, which can cause significant social anxiety. Likewise, bad breath can exacerbate social anxiety.
  • Patients of mental illness are 2.8 times more likely to have lost all their teeth; this affects physical appearance, self-esteem, and self-image.
  • Similarly, patients of mental illness have higher statistical rates of tooth decay and missing teeth, which likewise affect physical appearance and self-image.

While much about the connection between oral health and mental health requires further research, there is an established link between these two areas of health and wellness. The doctors at Penn Dental Family Practice seek to pay special attention to this connection and consider the mental health of our patients as we treat dental conditions–on World Health Day and everyday.