The link between oral health and physical wellness has been well-researched and documented. However, did you know that a strong dental care routine can also benefit your mental health?
When your teeth and gums look and feel their best, you’re less prone to experiencing the emotional and mental stressors that many dental issues can trigger.
Today, we’re taking a closer look at this correlation, exploring how your mental and oral health are related and sharing ways to optimize both.
How does oral health affect your mental health?
The connection between your mouth and your mind is more powerful than you might realize. For one, conditions such as periodontitis or misaligned teeth can cause your self-esteem to lower. They can also catalyze feelings of depression and anxiety.
In one peer-reviewed study, researchers set out to investigate this association more carefully, using data extracted over a five-year period for the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Each participant in the survey was at least 30 years old and voluntarily underwent a periodontal examination and depression screening.
The key finding? A significant 22% of participants reported moderate depressive symptoms. Of those, more than half were suffering from periodontal disease. In addition, more than one-third had untreated dental caries.
Yet, it’s important to realize that the connection works both ways.
In the same study, researchers also investigated whether or not an onset of depression could lead to the development of periodontal disease. They confirmed that this was the case, citing that survey participants who experienced severe depressive symptoms had an overall higher risk of developing mild periodontitis than their peers.
How is the oral health connection formed?
There are both behavioral and biological factors at work within this relationship. Let’s take a look at each one in greater detail.
When someone is in the throes of depression, anxiety, or elevated stress, studies show that they’re less likely to prioritize certain aspects of their personal care, including their oral health. They’re also less likely to take advantage of dental services, such as preventative cleanings offered by their dentist.
One recent study of more than 96,000 participants found that 73% of adults had used some form of oral health services in the past year. However, researchers noted that the rate of non-use for such services was “significantly higher” among participants suffering from:
- Current depression.
- Lifetime diagnosed depression.
- Lifetime diagnosed anxiety.
Specifically, they found that adults with these illnesses were nearly two times more likely to have not had a dental or cleaning visit in the past year.
These findings underscore the mental and physical toll that depression and anxiety can take. In addition to causing feelings of stress and sadness, these conditions can also lead to:
- Decreased energy levels.
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
- Physical aches and pains.
- Gastrointestinal distress.
- Difficulty sleeping .
- Appetite and weight changes.
When these symptoms take hold, it can be difficult to focus on oral health habits, such as brushing and flossing. It can be even more daunting to attend preventative visits or schedule treatments for dental issues, such as gum disease. This can cause the condition to exacerbate and develop into more severe periodontitis.
In the same vein, research shows that people who follow an unhealthy diet could also be at a higher risk of developing mental health conditions, including depression.
They’re also more likely to self-medicate by smoking. In a review of 148 individual studies, researchers found that 71% of the reports indicated that baseline depression leads to a subsequent onset of smoking. Both unhealthy diets and cigarette use are linked to poor oral health.
In addition to the behavioral link between oral health and mental health, the connection is also a biological one.
The chief way this link forms is through the production of a hormone called cortisol.
This is your body’s stress hormone, and it rises when depression and anxiety set in. Over time, elevated levels of cortisol can weaken your immune system, leaving your body more susceptible to disease. When that natural immune response is compromised, it becomes more difficult to ward off dental conditions including gum inflammation and gum disease.
Yet, that is only one of the ways your bodily reactions can negatively impact your oral health. Studies show that people suffering from anxiety are also more likely to develop bruxism, or teeth grinding, at night. Such behavior is a physical manifestation of both stress and anxiety, and can lead to dental conditions such as tooth damage or temporomandibular disorders (TMD).
Consider, as well, the side effects commonly associated with many medications prescribed to help treat anxiety and depression. This includes antidepressant medications that fall into the following categories:
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs).
- Serotonin Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor (SNRIs).
- Atypical antidepressants.
Over the course of 99 separate trials involving more than 20,000 adults, researchers found that all three of the above medication types were associated with a higher risk of dry mouth. Specifically, SNRIs tend to be the top contributors.
When your mouth is chronically dry, your saliva levels drop significantly. This allows bacteria, plaque, and food debris to stick to your teeth more easily. Over time, this can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. Dry mouth is also associated with mouth sores, oral thrush, and cracked lips, among other conditions.
Prioritize and Optimize Your Oral Health
In your quest to stay well physically and mentally, remember to keep your oral health top of mind. When you take the time to brush and floss twice a day, as well as stay up-to-date on your dentist visits, you can feel great from the inside out.
Our office is here to help you on this journey, every step of the way! Contact us to schedule an appointment.