How Dental Health and Mental Health Are Connected

While it may not be widely understood, there is a clear link between a person's dental health and mental health.Many studies have identified a link between mental health and oral health1However, this interaction tends not to attract much attention, even among health care professionals.Written in a recent article Psychiatry News The article by Antoinette V. Shappell, MD, and Pierre M. Cartier, MD, MPH, states, “Psychiatrists are well aware of the need to understand all of a patient’s health issues, but sometimes oral health is overlooked5“.

Schaper and Cartier point out the multiple ways in which oral health and mental health are interconnected, each influencing the other. Dental health problems can affect a person's quality of life and exacerbate mental health issues. For example:

  • When a person has poor oral health, it can affect their eating, speech, and self-esteem, and lead to reduced social interactions, further damaging mental health.
  • Many people, including those with mental health problems, feel anxious about dental care and procedures and avoid necessary care, but chronic oral pain can contribute to poor mental health and make treating mental health problems more difficult difficulty.
  • Symptoms of mental illness can lead to malnutrition, which can lead to poor dental health.
  • People with mental illness, especially those who experience severe symptoms of mental illness, may have difficulty maintaining an effective daily dental care routine and getting the dental treatment they need.
Elderly woman receiving dental care

Schaper and Cartier highlighted four major dental conditions common among people with mental illness: cavities, gum disease, dry mouth (xerostomia), and teeth grinding (bruxism). Dry mouth can be a complication of anxiety and a side effect of many psychotropic medications. They suggest that over-the-counter products, such as oral moisturizers, mouthwash, toothpaste, or xylitol gum, can help relieve dry mouth. Grinding, which damages teeth and causes tooth and jaw pain, can be treated by wearing a night guard and working with a psychiatrist to address medication side effects and psychological factors. If a person is very worried about going to the dentist, treatment may help.

Oral health and dementia

Oral health is a particular concern for older adults. Poor oral health is common among people with dementia, who may have difficulty carrying out daily activities or providing more comprehensive oral care. Additionally, studies show that periodontal disease and tooth loss are associated with a higher risk of dementia. New research suggests a link between gum disease and the development of amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease. “The mouth is part of the body, and if you don't pay attention to oral inflammation and infection, you can't truly prevent systemic diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease,” said study co-author Alpdogan Kantarci, DDS, MS, PhD. told Science Daily.

Schaper and Cartier made some recommendations for prevention and care for the elderly.

They also emphasize the importance of collaboration among the entire health care team (including dentists, doctors, social workers, mental health professionals, etc.) and focus on dental health and mental health.

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