We continue to expand our understanding of how mental health affects our lives. Ongoing studies reveal that these conditions can have severe implications for all areas of our health. Conditions like eating disorders, depression, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorders have all been shown to impact our oral health. Identifying mental health concerns and learning how to help patients with them protect their health, oral and otherwise, is essential. There’s a growing movement in the dental industry to find new ways to help these patients overcome the risks to their oral health.
How Oral Health and Mental Health Are Tied
One thing that has become clear as we study mental health concerns is how difficult they can be to identify. As these studies continue, we find more ways to make this process easier. Mental health issues are not visible to the naked eye. When trying to identify them as the source of oral health concerns, it gets even more difficult. There’s no clear indicator pointing to the underlying cause of tooth decay and gingivitis.
- Neglect: Mental health can greatly increase the difficulty of maintaining daily practices, like oral hygiene. Consistency is critical to ensuring that brushing and flossing are effective. Mental health concerns like depression can make it difficult to maintain these practices and thus prevent gum disease and tooth decay.
- Anxiety: Regular daily activities can seem daunting to those suffering from anxiety disorders. Just thinking about taking the time to brush and floss can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed. Dental phobia is also a form of anxiety and can prevent patients from getting regular dental care.
- Eating Disorders: Those who live with eating disorders often demonstrate high levels of enamel erosion. This is generally the cause of increased exposure to acid that results from bulimia. Other forms of eating disorders can lead to poor dietary choices or not eating enough. All of these have oral health implications.
- Over-brushing: As a contrast to the above concerns, obsessive-compulsive behavior can lead to brushing and flossing too much. Spending excessive amounts of time cleaning and flossing can damage the gums and teeth. Many of these patients may also seek more effective toothpaste. Some of these, like charcoal toothpaste, are highly abrasive. This can be the source of severe damage to the teeth.
- Medications: Medication is often used to control mental health concerns. While effective, these can sometimes create new problems for oral health. Dry mouth is the most common result. Saliva plays a central role in cleaning away debris and bacteria. It also balances the pH of our mouth in a way that impedes bacterial growth. Dry mouth means less saliva and less protection.
This is in no way a comprehensive list of the ways mental health can affect your oral health. These are merely the most frequently identified problems. Addressing mental and oral health from all angles is essential to producing solid results.
Get Help From Your Dentist And Mental Health Provider
Keeping ourselves healthy requires addressing all the aspects of wellness. This is best accomplished by connecting your health providers and getting them working together. Reach out to your dentist to get started.