The connection between oral health and physical health is well-known. For example, poor oral health puts you at a higher risk for heart disease, stroke, and other serious illnesses. But what about the relationship between oral health and mental health? You may be surprised at how connected the two are.
The medical and dental health disconnect
Before jumping into the strong connection between mental health and oral health, it’s important to understand the historical separation between medical care and dental care. Centuries ago, practicing dentistry and practicing medicine were the same. However, in the mid-1800s, the creation of dental schools and medical schools essentially divided oral health from the rest of medical education, according to the AMA Journal of Ethics.
Now, there is a strong push to overcome this historical separation by reintegrating oral health care into medical care. One of the reasons behind this movement are the hundreds of physical diseases that can initially be diagnosed by dentists and then treated by physicians.
Some of the conditions that can be spotted by your dentist include:
- Oral cancer
Mental health impacts oral health
The effects of poor mental health on oral health are becoming a focus for dentists and mental health professionals alike. Studies have found that people with mental disorders are less likely to follow good oral hygiene habits, such as consistent brushing or seeing a dentist regularly, which can lead to dental disease and other health problems.
The type of mental disorder someone has can lead to different dental problems. Here are just a few ways poor mental health can cause poor oral health:
- People with depression are more likely to use substances like alcohol and tobacco. This can cause tooth decay and erosion.
- People with depression are less likely to take care of themselves, especially when it comes to good oral health habits. This can lead to gum disease and other dental diseases.
Bipolar Affective Disorder (BD)
- People with BD are more likely to over-brush their teeth. This can cause damage to the gums and cause abrasions in the mouth.
- People with BD are more likely to have dry mouth and oral inflammation.
- Individuals with eating disorders, specifically bulimia nervosa, are more susceptible to having tooth decay.
Oral health impacts on mental health
The connection between oral health and mental health is a two-way street. Much like poor mental health can lead to poor oral health, poor oral health can also worsen existing mental health problems. Here are just a few ways bad dental health can exacerbate mental health problems:
- Some dental problems affect speech, which can lead to anxiety in social settings.
- Chronic bad breath can also lead to anxiety in social settings.
- Tooth loss is more likely to occur in individuals with mental disorders. This can lead to a negative self-image and decreased desire to do things they enjoy.
- Pain associated with certain dental diseases can negatively affect quality of life.
Embracing the connection between oral and mental health
The relationship between mental health and oral health is important. In fact, some mental health care professionals are encouraging mental health clinicians to ask about oral health care as a part of the comprehensive screening process for those with severe mental disorders.
While the full understanding of the connection between oral and mental health is in its very early stages, it’s important to recognize the unique connection and develop methods and policies to improve the lives of those living with mental health issues.