The Connection Between Mental Health and Dental Health
By Loretta Graceffo
Even though it’s not always talked about, there is a close connection between wellness of the mind and wellness of the body. This includes oral hygiene and dental health. In fact, nearly every mental illness can impact the health of your teeth and gums. By taking steps to take care of your body— like creating and maintaining a positive daily routine when it comes to oral hygiene— you will also be taking care of your mind.
There are a variety of reasons why people who struggle with mental illness can also suffer from poor oral health:
Depression and other mental illnesses can leave people feeling exhausted and unmotivated, making simple tasks like brushing their teeth or preparing healthy meals feel impossible.
People struggling with stress and anxiety often grind their teeth while they are sleeping, which can lead to jaw pain, worn-down teeth, increased sensitivity and even tooth loss. This is known as bruxism, and some studies suggest it may be more common among people who use SSRI medication for depression and anxiety.
Many people suffering from mental illness turn to drugs, alcohol, coffee, cigarettes or even sugar to cope with their pain. When these substances are abused over time, they can result in tooth decay, gum disease or even oral cancer.
Eating disorders like bulimia or anorexia can result in poor nutrition or low levels of calcium, which can weaken the surface enamel of your teeth. Frequent vomiting caused by bulimia can also cause damage to the throat, teeth, and mouth.
Some medications prescribed to maintain mental wellness have side effects like dry mouth, which can reduce saliva flow and in turn make people more susceptible to gum disease.
Often, the challenges of adults living with mental illness are exacerbated by societal conditions like poverty, racism and lack of access to medical care. Some studies suggest that experiencing mental illness may increase a person’s chances of living below the poverty line. Because of this correlation, many people with mental illness are not able to afford necessary dental care.
If you are experiencing mental illness and you struggle with oral hygiene and dental health, there is no reason to be ashamed. Though it can be hard to perform daily tasks when you are struggling, creating and maintaining a routine like brushing your teeth can make a huge difference in keeping your teeth healthy going forward. Bigger steps, like adopting a healthier diet or cutting down on cigarettes, coffee, and drugs, can also result in positive changes. Even when your mind convinces you otherwise, your body is worth taking care of— and every time you take a step to take care of your body, your mind benefits too.