How oral health and mental health are connected

If you’re feeling down, your teeth might be suffering too. People with anxiety or depression may experience a negative impact on their oral health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that, over their lifetime, 50 percent of Americans will be affected by some type of behavioral health issue. 

In 2016, an estimated 45 million adults in the United States lived with a mental illness, including 10.4 million people with a severe mental illness. With numbers like that, getting on top of things like dental visits and oral health issues can really improve poor mental health. 

Stress, depression and anxiety 

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that almost two-thirds of people with depression had a toothache in the last year. And 50 percent of people with depression rated their teeth condition as fair or poor.

People with these mental health issues sometimes lose focus on dental health habits.

Depression can also cause people to brush and floss inconsistently, skip dentist visits, have unhealthy diets, and self-medicate with smoking.

Stress and anxiety manifest in the body as a hormone called cortisol. As cortisol increases, the immune system gets weaker. This can leave you vulnerable to gum inflammation and gum disease.

To make matters worse, about half of all dental patients experience some anxiety about their dental visits, according to the National Institutes of Health. People with anxiety also are more susceptible to canker sores, dry mouth and teeth grinding. These issues may be attributed to a lack of dental care or as side effects of medication.  

5 low-effort steps to improve oral and mental health 

If you're feeling blue, you probably have no energy and the last thing you're thinking about is your teeth. However, these tips don’t take a lot of energy or time and can help turn that frown upside down. 

1.   Brush and floss twice a day. This is a basic habit of oral care. It takes only 2 minutes and will improve dental hygiene and your physical health. Not only will your teeth thank you but you will gain confidence in yourself because your teeth will look pearly white.

2.   Reduce or quit nicotine. Nicotine is a stimulant that causes a rise in blood pressure and respiration and requires a constant return to feeling the effects. Reducing or quitting removes that feeling of coming down.

3.   Reduce or quit alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a depressant that alters an individual’s mood. Reducing or quitting removes the feeling of depression after sobering up.

4.   Instead of reaching for that piece of candy, reach for an apple. It's just as sweet and doesn’t have all that extra sugar. This also helps you maintain a healthy well-balanced diet which will not only give you a long life but will make your body and mind feel way better.

5.   Keep mints, gum and mouth spray on you. A lot of these items have xylitol in them. This is a natural sweetener that helps make more saliva to prevent dryness in your mouth along with preventing plaque and cavities. Not only that but your breath will smell great increasing your confidence for that night out with friends or just while you’re out and about. 

How a dentist can help

Your dentist can help you deal with the oral health effects of depression and anxiety as well as any other mental health issues. 

During your next dentist visit, explain your symptoms and discuss any medications you’re taking. This can help your teeth stay healthy and also prevent things like dental phobia. 

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