The Link Between Oral And Mental Health
In the same way that your oral health gives a glimpse into your body’s inner workings, there is mounting scientific evidence that points to a strong connection between your oral health and mental well-being.
Many psychiatric illnesses, particularly eating and mood disorders, are usually associated with dental disease and damage. A study estimates that people who have serious mental health conditions are 2.7 times more likely to lose their teeth than the population.
Oral Health And Mood Disorders
Patients with affective disorders tend to avoid caring for their physical health, and their teeth are no exception. As a result, those with depression and anxiety develop cavities due to self-neglect and unhealthy eating habits like heavy consumption of sugary drinks and fatty foods.
Patients suffering from severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia and dementia are likely to have advanced gum disease or tooth decay due to bacterial infection.
In a study, 59% of psychiatric outpatients in Australia had at least moderate pockets or a condition where the gum has retreated from the tooth.
On the other hand, patients with bipolar disorders in their manic phase may sometimes brush too aggressively to the extent that it erodes the enamel or the outermost layer of your teeth. Overly vigorous brushing or flossing can not only wear down the enamel but can also injure your gums.
In some cases, people with mental illness grind or clench their teeth excessively in response to stress or anxiety in a condition known as bruxism.
Although most cases are mild, severe bruxism can damage the enamel and affect the deeper structures of your teeth, resulting in sensitivity, facial pain, and tension-type headaches.
Some psychotropic medications or drugs designed to improve your behavior and stabilize your mood can also result in dry mouth or xerostomia.
If you have this condition, your mouth cannot produce sufficient saliva to break down and wash away food. Since saliva acts as a natural defense against harmful bacteria, people with dry mouth are more vulnerable to gum and tooth problems.
Oral Health And Eating Disorders
The warning signs of most eating disorders are observable with changes to one’s mouth. Your dentist may be the first clinician to diagnose an eating disorder ahead of a psychiatrist, especially if they have prior knowledge of your medical history.
For instance, individuals struggling with bulimia are at high risk of dental damage due to constant binge and purge cycles. Research shows that as much as 38% of patients with eating disorders suffer from tooth erosion.
Vomiting causes corrosive stomach acid to flow to the mouth, which is harmful to the enamel. Over time, the tooth can weaken, become brittle, and more translucent. This condition can make it difficult to eat hot and cold food and drinks.
When individuals insert fingers or objects to induce vomiting, they can also scratch and damage the inside of the mouth, especially the soft palate.
Similar cuts on the knuckles usually accompany redness or other injuries to the soft palate. Over time, the destructive behaviors of bulimic individuals can also cause salivary glands to enlarge.
Likewise, people with anorexia that go to extreme lengths to avoid gaining weight are harming their teeth by failing to get the nutrition they need.
Without insufficient amounts of vitamin B3, for instance, anorexia patients can develop bad breath and canker sores. Gums and other soft tissue become more prone to bleeding, and dehydration can quickly give way to dry mouth.
Some eating disorders can also increase the likelihood of degenerative joint diseases in the jaw area. When the joint weakens due to wear-and-tear, it may cause pain and headaches whenever you chew.
When your oral health takes a turn for the worse, it often results in severe pain and discomfort that could interfere every time you eat or speak.
Once oral damage and disease become noticeable, it can lower the self-esteem of people already suffering from mental disorders.
As a coping strategy, individuals can withdraw or isolate themselves, launching a vicious cycle where their mental health deteriorates even further and preventing them from receiving the help they need.
Moreover, advanced dental disease is linked to potentially life-threatening complications like stroke, heart disease, and other respiratory illnesses.
Bad oral hygiene can also lead to the formation of bacteria in your bloodstream or bacteremia that can trigger an inflammatory reaction in your arteries.
If you’re receiving treatment for a mental health problem, your oral health must get just as much medical attention as other aspects of your physical health.
An in-depth assessment should involve the coordination of your mental health and dental care provider and consider how these factors all come into play.
Close multidisciplinary collaboration is necessary for delivering the treatment you need to restore your smile and improve your state of mind.