What’s the connection between oral health and mental health?

There’s an old saying that goes “Smile and the world smiles with you; frown and you frown alone.” The idea is that smiles can be contagious, but loneliness and depression tend to be a solitary experience.

Did you know there’s actually a direct, cooperative relationship between your smile/oral health and your inner mental health?  Believe it or not, they can seriously impact each other. Let’s take a look at exactly how mental health and oral health are connected.

When we don’t take care of our teeth, it can lead to a series of complications. Discoloration, tooth loss and bad breath are all common side effects of poor oral hygiene. These side effects can affect your mental health, too.

  • People who smile more tend to feel more confident and successful.  So, if your teeth are in bad shape and you are hesitant to smile, then you can be losing out on a genuine self-esteem booster.
  • Losing your teeth can make you feel awkward about smiling, but also about speaking. People with dentures can sometimes be uncomfortable speaking because they might slur their words or are afraid of the dentures slipping. And when you stay bottled up and don’t talk to people, then your depression just festers.
  • Bad teeth and bad breath can make a person feel socially awkward. The idea of talking to other people makes them nervous and anxious, because they don’t want to be ridiculed.

When you struggle with mental health, everything else can feel more difficult. Your energy is spent battling your illness and working towards getting better. There are several ways mental health impacts our oral health.

  • Dealing with mental health issues can be all consuming. If your energy is spent trying to get better, it’s easy to make oral hygiene a lower priority.
  • A trip to the dentist can be nerve-wracking for some. For people with a mental illness like anxiety, the intense fear and anxiousness they feel are enough to keep them out of the dentist’s chair altogether.
  • For some people suffering from mental illness, turning to substances is a way for them to cope. Alcohol, tobacco and caffeine all stain your teeth and can weaken their structure.
  • If a person’s mental illness manifests in eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, this can have a major effect on oral health. The acids from vomiting can cause serious tooth decay.
  • One of the side effects associated with some antidepressants is dry mouth. Certain medications inhibit the production of saliva, which can actually cause tooth decay. Saliva is the body’s natural way of flushing out bacteria.

It’s very clear that there is a connection between mental health and oral health. If you neglect either of these, it can affect the other. It’s important to take care of both your mental and oral health so you can feel your best.