Oral & Vision Health Blog

How Does Mental Health Affect Oral Health?

Mental health and oral health go hand in hand


Key takeaways:

  • Mental health has a significant impact on oral health
  • Those with severe mental illness are three times more likely to lose their teeth
  • People with gum disease are 37% more likely to develop depression
  • Good mental health can improve oral health and vice versa 


Today’s dentists have learned to look at their patients holistically, emphasizing the importance of the mind-body connection. They understand that thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes can affect bodily functions. What this means is that our mental health can affect our dental health. It is a symbiotic relationship. 


If your outlook on life is positive, you are more inclined to be diligent in taking care of your teeth and other aspects of your health. But when you are struggling with mental health issues, your dental health is often neglected. It is important for your mind and body to work well together for the best possible results. Taking action that improves your oral health can help you improve your mental health.


The impact of mental health on oral health is considerable. Every day you see people with perfect, bright-white teeth on the street, on TV, and in movies. You might feel judged if your teeth are not glittering like pearls, and it may make you withdraw from social situations. Or, you might have a mental health issue that gives you more than the usual dental anxiety. 


Then there is the lack of motivation that comes with depression which could cause you to neglect your oral health. Let us further explore how mental health is connected to oral health.


The impact of your mental health on your oral health (and vice versa)


The relationship between your mind and body regarding oral health can be complex. On the one hand, even going to the dentist can create anxiety and fear. On the other hand, the side effects created by mental health issues can lead to all sorts of mouth issues that eventually lead to tooth loss. Those with severe mental illness are about three times more likely to lose all their teeth


On the other side of that equation, another very recent study found that gum disease increased the risk of developing a mental illness by 37%. Taking care of your oral health is a win-win proposition for both your mental and physical health – poor oral health is linked to cardiovascular disease and oral cancer. 


Now we will look at the behaviors common in those with poor mental health that can harm their oral health.

Behaviors that affect oral health


If you have a mental health issue such as depression or anxiety, you may not be brushing and flossing regularly. Or you might not get the proper nutrition and eat far too many processed and/or sugary foods. In addition, eating disorders such as bulimia can wear away the enamel on your teeth, as can overly vigorously brushing. 


Then there is dental anxiety. If you already have anxiety, the thought of visiting the dentist can put you over the edge. But not visiting means you are neglecting your oral health, which causes anxiety as well. This can have a severe impact on your oral health, of course, and puts you in a circular loop of neglect and its consequences. 


Smoking can mean tooth staining and gum disease. It can also cause oral cancer and a lack of oxygen in the blood. This affects the ability of your gums to heal. You will have more plaque, your gum disease will accelerate faster than in those who are not smokers, and there are those not-so-lovely brown stains that smoking causes. 


Self-medicating through drug abuse has its own set of oral health issues. Dry mouth is common with substance abuse, and that causes tooth decay. If you don’t have enough saliva, your teeth are not protected from acids and harmful bacteria do not get flushed out. A powerful strong desire for sweets means even more decay, and if the drug of choice is a stimulant, clenching and grinding can mean weakened and broken teeth and severe jaw pain.


Some medications you take for mental health or other health problems can cause dry mouth as well –it’s a known side effect of over 1,800 drugs. Antidepressants are a big offender here – 35 to 46% of patients experience dry mouth when on antidepressants. 


Of course, skipping the dentist is common among those of us with mental health problems, whether the reason is depression or embarrassment that we have let our teeth go for too long. One of the psychological effects of decayed teeth is that it can make your mental health problems worse. You might lack confidence in talking and eating might even be difficult. So, what steps can you take to help?


Improving your oral and mental health


First mental health treatment is essential. You will also want to see a dentist for teeth treatment. Your teeth and gums provide a lot of insight into both your mental and physical health. There are steps you can take at home before and after you see the dentist. These include:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste
  • Use dental floss or an interdental brush to clean between your teeth twice daily
  • Cut back on sugary foods and drinks
  • Eat a balanced and healthy diet
  • Cut out smoking. And either reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption. If you suffer from dry mouth, use sugar-free mints and gum. Some toothpastes are specially made for dry mouth. 


Oral health and mental health are intricately connected, and you cannot afford to stop paying attention to either one. Neglecting your teeth and gums can make you more likely to suffer from depression. As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”


Having sparkly teeth and healthy gums will boost your mental health and mean no more social embarrassment. So, get out there and get social. Go work out with a friend or grab some lunch. Also remember to slow things down and be in the moment to help you focus and create a calming feeling. 


This article is not intended to be a substitute for diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your condition. 


questions to ask the dentist