Your dental and mental health are two essential parts of everyday life. Oral health is a term describing how you take care of your teeth and gums. Mental health captures the broad spectrum of how you feel emotionally on a regular basis and what you’re doing to feel well. Both of these types of health are important to balance, but research is showing that the two have a stronger connection than you might realize.
Understanding the connection between your oral hygiene and mental health is helpful for anyone. Not brushing your teeth because of mental illness is a common occurrence — and learning more about how the two go together can help you break that habit. Continue reading to discover how to maintain dental and mental health in your own life or in the life of a loved one.
What Is the Connection Between Oral and Mental Health?
While it may seem far-fetched at first, a closer look shows a strong relationship between oral and mental health. A 2016 study reveals a clear connection between the two types of health and how they influence each other. The study states that mental health is an integral part of physical health, including one’s dental well-being. Many people suffering from mental illness show signs of poor oral health, but the study’s findings take the relationship between dental problems and mental illness a step further.
Scientists are now seeing signs that significant dental issues can actually trigger or worsen various mental health conditions. There’s a cyclical relationship — each one affects the other, and both types of health have the potential to cause worsening conditions in the other. The good news is that the opposite is true, as a positive mental state can help your oral health. Likewise, good dental health practices can help reduce specific side effects of mental health issues.
To take your first step toward achieving victory in your dental and mental health, you need to take an honest look at how these two types of health affect each other in real life. This commitment includes knowing the good as well as the bad. Understanding both sides is how you can make an educated and intentional change.
How Does Mental Health Affect Dental Health?
Here are some of the mental health issues and related factors that can cause you to see a decrease in the health of your teeth and gums.
A connection exists between depression and various dental health issues. These issues include tooth loss and cavities, among other conditions. On the surface, it may seem like a random link, but if you’ve ever experienced a depressive episode, you know that poor hygiene can be a side effect.
Those with depression may experience a lack of motivation, causing them to clean their teeth sporadically or forget to clean their teeth altogether. They’re also more likely to skip visits to their dentist. Over time, this lack of dental cleaning can cause plaque buildup, tartar and cavities, potentially leading to severe cases like tooth loss.
Depression can also lead to an increase in drug use, alcohol consumption and tobacco use. Poor diets often accompany depression, causing individuals to miss out on the essential nutrients they need for a healthy mouth. These factors can worsen dental health conditions, especially when combined with a lack of dental hygiene practices.
Anxiety can take many forms and affect people in different ways. People suffering from social anxiety may be less likely to visit the dentist due to the social interaction. Plus, the tools and methods used to clean teeth can seem aggressive, causing fear in the patient. This anxiety over visiting the dentist could result in someone going years without having their teeth professionally cleaned, leading to a higher risk of plaque, tartar and gum disease.
A condition known as bruxism is also common in people who suffer from the stresses caused by anxiety. Bruxism is the act of grinding one’s teeth together either consciously or unconsciously, usually as a response to an external force like anxiety-induced stress. This grinding can weaken tooth enamel and make one’s teeth more susceptible to cavities and pain.
Some eating disorders can cause harm to one’s teeth. Having a desire to eat only sugary, sour or acidic foods can be harmful to your teeth, leading to reduced tooth enamel and potential cavities. Other conditions, such as pica, cause people to crave items that could be harmful to one’s body and health. A mild form of pica called pagophagia causes people to crave ice. While this habit may seem harmless at first, chewing ice can cause cracked or chipped teeth and weakened enamel.
Bulimia is a well-known eating disorder that can cause severe damage to one’s teeth. Consistent purging subjects your teeth to high volumes of acid which eat away at the enamel. As the enamel weakens, the teeth experience a reduction in size and an increase in cavity risks. Plus, the act of bulimic purging can deprive someone of the essential nutrients teeth need to stay healthy.
Certain behaviors caused by obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can contribute to a decrease in one’s oral health. This fact may come as a surprise to you because obsessive-compulsive behaviors have a stigma of behaviors like cleanliness or orderliness. However, the truth is that people experience OCD in different ways, many of which can be harmful to their dental health.
An example of OCD affecting dental health is the erosion of tooth enamel caused by intense and vigorous brushing. Someone with OCD may feel the urge to brush their teeth with great force and vigor for extended periods of time, harming their gums and scraping away layers of enamel. Brushing your teeth is important, but doing so harshly causes more harm than good.
Many people with mental illness rely on medications to help them in their daily lives. These medications help balance hormones and chemicals in the brain to reduce the negative aspects of some of the conditions listed above. That said, medications have side effects, which can affect the patient’s dental health.
One of the most common side effects of medications is a condition called dry mouth, which causes the user’s mouth to produce less saliva than it should. Saliva plays an essential role in cleaning your teeth, and the lack of saliva caused by dry mouth can lead to food particles staying in people’s mouths. This situation can lead to plaque accumulation, cavities and eventually gum disease.
How to Take Care of Your Teeth While Depressed or Anxious
Taking care of your teeth while anxious or depressed is essential in keeping a healthy mouth. Here are four ways you can improve your oral hygiene even when feeling less than your best.
1. Establish an Oral Hygiene Routine
A consistent oral hygiene routine is the key to a happy and healthy mouth. Your dentist can give you all the advice they want, but you’re the only one who will make sure you clean your teeth when you’re at home. Make cleaning your teeth a part of your daily routine to help fend off the possible adverse oral effects of mental illness.
The best way to start your new oral hygiene routine is by brushing your teeth twice per day and flossing once per day. This effort may seem daunting, but starting small is a great way to manage oral health issues while depressed. Even gathering the effort to brush once before bed is better than not doing it at all! Soon enough, you’ll have a top-notch oral hygiene routine.
2. Make Regular Visits to Your Dentist
Cleaning your teeth at home is crucial, but you should also visit your dentist regularly. Your dentist will use special tools and products to clean your teeth better than you can on your own. They’ll remove plaque from problem areas and even get rid of tartar if any has accumulated. Your dentist will be able to spot cavities and recommend treatment options for your unique dental needs.
It’s normal to feel some level of anxiety when visiting the dentist. But with the right dentist, you can feel those worries slip away. Choose a dentist that treats you as an individual instead of another number in a filing cabinet. Your dentist should get to know you and help you feel comfortable every time you pay them a visit. With the right dentist, you can schedule your routine cleanings with confidence.
3. Practice Self-Care to Reduce Stress Levels
High levels of stress will only make mental health issues worse. Plus, scientists have discovered a correlation between people experiencing stress and a decline in their dental health. You should take measures to reduce the stress you experience. To help you manage oral health issues while anxious, consider these tips to feel calmer before completing daily tasks:
- Take 15 minutes of quiet time each day.
- Visit a therapist who can help you navigate the stressful parts of your life.
- Do things that can help you feel more confident, like brushing your teeth and having a cleaner mouth.
- Spend some time with friends and family members who care about your well-being.
4. Eat Healthier Food
You may have heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” What you use to fuel your body has a significant influence on how you feel both mentally and physically. Now that you know how dental and mental health relate to each other, you can understand how the food you eat can improve or decrease both types of health.
Eat foods that contain nutrients for a healthy smile and body as a whole. Vitamins and minerals like calcium, vitamin K and vitamin D can help you feel better and strengthen your teeth at the same time. It may take some discipline, but a healthier diet is always worth the many benefits you could experience.
Mental Health Benefits of Dental Hygiene
Practicing good mental health behavior can improve your dental health. However, practicing good oral hygiene can have many positive effects on your mental health, as well. Here are three mental health benefits of practicing good dental hygiene, even when you feel depressed or anxious:
Increase Your Self-Esteem
Having clean teeth and fresh-smelling breath can increase your self-esteem. When you look at yourself in the mirror, you should feel good about the image you see. One way you can help you feel better about yourself is with cleaner teeth and a happier smile.
When you clean your teeth every day, your teeth will feel stronger and look brighter. You’ll remove plaque and stains and enjoy having fresher breath as a result of your minty-fresh toothpaste cleaning away odors and bacteria. All these things add up to you feeling better about yourself every day.
Experience a Confidence Boost
Going out to see friends or visit family when you haven’t been taking care of your teeth can decrease your self-confidence. If your mental health already makes you feel less confident than usual, you should take care of your oral health to combat that. With clean teeth, you’ll feel more inclined to smile and laugh without feeling self-conscious. This confidence boost can help you on your road to self-care and managing your depression or anxiety.
Enjoy the Benefits of a New Routine
Daily routines are beneficial to anyone. Establishing a new routine can help you take control of your schedule and feel better about your day. Think of brushing your teeth twice and flossing once per day as your way of taking charge of your hygiene and improving an important area of your life.
Even when your days go differently than you planned, you can know that a part of your day will always stay consistent. Practicing oral hygiene as part of your routine will help you feel better about yourself and get into a rhythm. As a result, you may be able to improve your mental health.
Choose Anderson Dental as Your New Dental Practice
When you’re ready for a new dentist in Payson, Arizona or surrounding areas, Anderson Dental is your go-to choice. We care about your comfort and want to take the worry out of your dental visit. We offer a full range of dental services to meet your needs, and we give you the treatment you deserve to help you enhance your dental hygiene.
Balance your mental and dental health with the help of the team here at Anderson Dental. Payson Dental office for more information. We look forward to serving you and helping you increase your quality of life!