Wellness

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The connection between oral and mental health

If you’re feeling blue, your teeth might be, too. Recent research suggests that people with anxiety or depression may experience a decline in oral health. Understand the connection and learn what to do if it’s happening to you.

The link between oral and mental health is hard to ignore. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that almost two-thirds of people with depression reported having a toothache in the last year. It also indicated that half of all people with depression rated their teeth condition as fair or poor. A scientific review of related studies found a strong link between periodontal (gum) disease and mood conditions like stress, distress, anxiety, depression and loneliness.

The most obvious explanation for the link comes from the behavioral effects of stress, depression and anxiety. People with these conditions sometimes lose focus on oral health habits, which can lead to significant dental issues. Depression, for example, can cause people to brush and floss at irregular intervals, skip dentist visits, have unhealthy diets and self-medicate with smoking.

Biologically, depression and anxiety cause several factors that impact oral health. The stress they create manifests itself in the body as a hormone called cortisol. As cortisol levels increase, the immune system gets weaker. This can leave you vulnerable to mouth conditions like gum inflammation (gingivitis) and gum disease (periodontitis). In addition, medications prescribed for depression and anxiety can cause dry mouth. This lack of saliva can mean that food debris, plaque and bacteria aren’t getting rinsed from teeth easily, which can make it easier for cavities to form.

Anxiety, in particular, tends to be associated with several oral health issues. If you have anxiety, you're more susceptible to canker sores, dry mouth and teeth grinding (bruxism). As with depression, these issues may be attributed to a lack of oral care or as side effects of anxiety medication.

Luckily, when depression or anxiety takes a toll on oral health, there are ways to fight back. The simplest step you can take to maintain your oral health is to brush twice a day and floss daily. Keeping up these basic oral health habits can go a long way to keeping your mouth in tip-top shape.

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Your dentist can help you deal with the oral health effects of depression and anxiety. Take a moment during your next dentist visit to explain your symptoms and discuss any medications you’re taking to manage them.

By knowing the potential issues and taking steps to prevent them, people with depression or anxiety can ensure that their smiles stay healthy through all the ups and downs.

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