Your Smile & Mental Health: The Connection Between Mental & Oral Health
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Table of Contents
- How Dental Health & Mental Health are Linked
- Most Common Mental Health Disorders Linked to Dental Health
- Healthy Body Image & Mental Health
- Mental Health Benefits of Smiling
- Steps to Improve Mental Health
- Steps to Improve Dental Health
- The Bottom Line
Stress and poor mental health can make you less likely to take care of your teeth and oral health, which can lead to a variety of dental issues.
People with multiple mental health disorders are less likely to seek proper dental care or practice good oral hygiene- which can lead to poor dental health. Fear of going to the dentist can also exacerbate both oral and mental health issues.
Poor oral health can damage your view of yourself and negatively impact your mental health. Smiling can make you feel good, as it releases positive chemicals in your brain that can improve your mood.
How dental health & mental health are linked
Going to the dentist can invoke fear for a lot of people. About half of all dental patients report anxiety about their dental visits, which can lead to a phobia.
Poor oral health can create stress, anxiety, and depression. This can make you even less likely to want to go to the dentist.
Mood disorders can be isolating. They can make it difficult to find the determination to continue practicing healthy self-care, which can include maintaining routine dental exams.
People with mental illness, especially those with severe mental illness, are more likely to have poor oral health for some of the following reasons:
- Neglect and lack of attention to oral hygiene
- Poor nutrition and diet, increasing the risk for tooth decay and gingivitis
- Increased likelihood of alcohol, tobacco, and drug use
- Overbrushing from compulsion, damaging tooth enamel
- Medications taken for mental illness that cause dry mouth, which can create numerous dental issues
- Eating disorders, causing nutritional deficits that impact the teeth and purging behaviors can erode tooth enamel
- Teeth grinding as a result of anxiety or high stress, which can wear down, crack, or break your teeth
There is also a biological component linking poor oral health with mood disorders. When you are depressed or anxious, the body produces more of the stress hormone called cortisol. Increased cortisol levels weaken the immune system, which can heighten your risk for gum disease, mouth sores, and infections.
People with mood disorders often complain of cryonic pain that has no detectable physical cause. This can manifest as burning mouth syndrome or atypical facial pain, which are more common in people with poor mental health.
Most common disorders linked to dental health issues
Poor mental health overall can impact your desire and ability to care for yourself, which can lead to poor nutrition, negative behavioral habits, and less concern for oral hygiene. This can then lead to dental health issues.
These are some of the most common mental health disorders linked to dental issues:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Eating disorders
Mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression, can create high levels of stress that impact your oral health biologically as well as physically. Anxiety can be related to going to the dentist directly. Medications taken for mood disorders can often cause chronic dry mouth, which increases the rate of tooth decay and gingivitis. Stress can make you grind your teeth more often.
Oral health issues can also negatively impact your self-esteem, increase your stress levels, and therefore damage your overall mental health.
Eating disorders can impact oral health in a variety of ways, as they often lead to malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies, which can cause enamel erosion, bad breath, bleeding gums, tooth decay, and gum disease. Conversely, poor oral health can make it harder to chew, swallow, and eat.
Compulsive disorders and compulsions can lead to excessive and rigorous toothbrushing, which can wear down the enamel, and this cannot be replaced once lost. Serious mental illnesses, including schizophrenia and psychosis, can make people much less likely to attend to their oral health, including less frequent trips to the dentist and a higher likelihood to engage in self-harming behaviors.
Healthy body image & mental health
Your smile is often the first thing people notice about you. A healthy smile can help you to have a positive self-image.
If you do not like the way you smile, you may be more prone to mental health issues. Over a third of Americans polled state that they are embarrassed by their smile, and more than 40 percent report that it would be the first thing they would change about themselves.
When you do not like the way you smile, your self-confidence takes a hit, and this can impact your interpersonal relationships. When you are embarrassed to open your mouth in front of others and are insecure about your teeth, you may self-isolate. You may decline social activities and events more frequently, which can make you feel even more depressed and lonely.
Mental health benefits of smiling
Smiling can have many positive mental health benefits. It can:
- Improve your mood.
- Reduce stress.
- Lower your heart rate and blood pressure.
- Boost your immune system.
When you smile, it creates a chemical reaction in your brain, releasing two of the feel-good hormones in your brain. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure and happiness, while serotonin reduces stress.
Smiling can help you relax and help you to appear more attractive, which can be a boost to your mental health and self-esteem. Endorphins are released when you smile, and these can act as a natural painkiller. The release of serotonin can be a natural antidepressant, Psychology Today explains.
Smiling, even when you are faking it, can improve your mental health. Taking care of your oral health can make you more likely to smile more often, which can be an instant mood lifter.
Keeping up with your oral health can enhance your mental health, and vice versa. To prevent common dental issues associated with poor mental health, such as tooth decay, gum disease, and dental erosion, keep stress to a minimum while continuing to maintain important self-care practices, which include daily teeth brushing and flossing and seeing medical and dental health providers on a regular basis.
Mental health disorders are caused by a variety of factors, including biological, genetic, social, environmental, and behavioral ones. Risk factors for mental illness include high levels of stress. Keeping stress to a minimum can help to prevent mental health issues as well as related dental ones.
Good nutrition, regular physical exercise, and good oral hygiene habits can help to prevent both dental issues and mental health concerns. Talk to your medical, mental health, and dental providers about any changes in your physical or mental state. Address any potential concerns as they arise, as early as possible, to prevent serious health issues.
Steps to improve mental health
Try these steps to minimize stress and improve your mental health:
- Eat nutritious and balanced meals. This can help to reduce stress and improve your mood. It’ll help you to feel good physically and enhance mental clarity. Make sure to have the right balance of vitamins and minerals in your body.
- Stick to a structured healthy sleep schedule. Getting enough sleep can ensure that you are well rested and better able to cope with daily stressors and life events. Sleep also improves your physical and mental health.
- Keep up with a healthy activity and exercise regimen. Exercise can reduce stress, boost endorphins, elevate moods, and help to keep you in good physical shape. This can help you feel better about yourself mentally.
- Be social and connect with others. A healthy social life with positive interpersonal relationships can alleviate loneliness and minimize anxiety and depression. When you feel connected to those around you, you will often feel more centered mentally. It can also give you a healthy outlet to talk to someone when you are feeling stressed.
- Participate in activities that make you feel good. Often, giving back and participating in charitable events can make you feel better about yourself. Doing good for others can do wonders for your own mental health. Ultimately, a sense of purpose can improve your mental health.
- Practice mindfulness. Being aware of how you feel both physically and emotionally can help you to be more in tune with how your body and mind are feeling. It can serve to provide insight into your overall well-being. This can help you to be more present in the moment and enhance your mental health.
- Refrain from using drugs, drinking alcohol, or smoking. All of these substances can contribute to mood swings and poor mental health.
Steps to improve dental health
The most important thing you can do to improve your dental health is to practice good oral hygiene. These are tips for proper oral hygiene from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Brush your teeth at least two times per day for two minutes each time.
- Floss daily.
- Brush with fluoride toothpaste and drink fluoridated water.
- Limit alcoholic drinks.
- Do not use tobacco products.
- See your dentist at least once per year.
- Manage underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes.
- Control symptoms of dry mouth. If it is caused by medication, talk to your doctor.
Talk to your dentist about oral health concerns. If you have evidence of tooth decay, restorations can improve your oral health and appearance. This includes filling cavities with fillings or crowns, which can be tooth-colored for a more natural appearance.
If you are missing teeth, or if they are weakened or fractured, you can repair and replace teeth with implants, bridges, or dentures. These can fill gaps in your smile and enhance your smile.
Your teeth can become discolored for a variety of reasons, including age or trauma. Your teeth can also be stained by tobacco products and colorful food and drinks.
The bottom line
Yellow or discolored teeth are a common reason people do not like their smile. And teeth whitening products and procedures can improve the color.
With whitening systems like toothpastes, gels, strips, trays, and in-office professional whitening procedures, you can brighten your smile and feel better about the way you look. With so many options, a whiter smile is within reach.
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The Connection Between Oral Health and Mental Health. (2021). Delta Dental Plans Association.
How Mental Health Affects Oral Health. (August 2021). BDJ Student.
Mental Illness and Oral Health. Oral Health Foundation.
Study Shows Many People Hate Smiling. (June 2015). Dentistry Today.
Body Image Report- Executive Summary. (2021). Mental Health Foundation.
Smiling Can Trick Your Brain into Happiness- and Boost Your Health. (November 2017). NBC News.
There’s Magic in Your Smile. (June 2012). Psychology Today.
Oral Health Tips. (November 2021). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).