Research has established a rather surprising connection between poor dental care and mental health.
Apart from diabetes and many other chronic illnesses, poor dental care has been linked to dementia. And a 2018 study found that a large percentage of patients diagnosed with depressive symptoms also experienced toothache.
As such, everyone should practise proper dental hygiene to protect their mental as well as their physical health.
Dental problems connected to mental illness
- Poor brushing: People with bipolar syndrome or similar disorders tend to brush their teeth too vigorously and it often eats away the enamel. Due to the pain, they then brush their teeth poorly.
- Eating disorders: Patients with conditions such as bulimia or anorexia nervosa tend to experience dental erosion as a result of the acidity of vomit. They also have lower calcium levels, which affects how they eat.
- Anxiety: Most people experience some level of dental phobia and fear visiting the dentist.
However, without regular visits to the dentist, severe oral problems and anxiety issues can develop.
Most people with oral issues are anxious when they speak in front of people.
Dental care and mental health: The vicious cycle
The connection between mental health and dental care can be viewed as a vicious cycle that involves mouth inflammation and constant pain that leads to low self-esteem, depression and anxiety issues.
Dentists recommend brushing the teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and reducing the sugar intake as well as frequent check-ups.
Online consultations about implant dentistry are also available, which can bring relief to those with chronic dental issues.
Routine treatment by a dentist can help restore one’s social life since people with oral problems are often embarrassed by their condition and lack confidence when they are around others.
Signs of dental and mental illness
Mental illness harms oral health. For individuals with a mental illness, the chances are high that dental problems could result in the loss of all their teeth.
People suffering from affective disorders or depression tend to experience tooth attrition, a result of excessive teeth grinding and vigorous brushing. They often feel neglected.
A dentist can spot signs of eating disorders in the early stages as they can see the damage done to the enamel by purging.
Dentists often recommend fluoride treatments for such conditions, frequent cleaning to remineralise the enamel or, if the teeth cannot be saved, G4 implantation.
Causes of poor dental hygiene among unstable patients
Those who have mental health issues tend to suffer from anxiety and stress-related issues that can result in poor dental hygiene.
It is often difficult to deal with dental health when one suffers from mental illness.
Therefore, dentists often advise caregivers to take the mentally ill outside for self-reflection, which will give them the energy to perform regular chores such as dental care.
People with depression are known to visit the dentist less often and often have an unhealthy diet.
People with anxiety issues often grind their teeth and develop canker sores. These symptoms could be detrimental to their health, considering the short- and long-term effects.
Stress has psychological effects on oral health. The stress hormone, cortisone, spikes and as a result it weakens the immune system, making it easier for bacteria to cause inflammation of the gums.
Anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants sometimes dry the mouth so there is not enough saliva to clear the food that remains on the teeth after eating.
Taking care of oral health
It is difficult for people with anxiety issues and depression to take care of their teeth, but everyone needs to observe oral hygiene.
Dentists advise brushing at least twice a day as well as flossing after every meal. In addition, use a mouthwash that kills harmful bacteria and helps rinse off clogged debris trapped in the mouth.
Those who have a problem remembering dental appointments or brushing their teeth should set the alarm or a reminder.
Proper oral hygiene and frequent dental checks are essential for good mental health. Poor mental health affects oral hygiene, leading to tooth decay or gum disease.
Managing oral health is not difficult. Observing a healthier lifestyle and making it a routine to visit the dentist regularly are key.
And for those who have the responsibility to look after the mentally ill, take them out frequently and teach them the basics of oral hygiene.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg and host of The DRH Show. You can connect with him on Twitter @drelojo_howell