A study that followed 500 people over 30 years found that the state of a person’s mind affects their oral health. The results of the study showed that if a person is suffering from sadness, feelings of helplessness or other symptoms associated with depression they were 20% more likely to have severe gum disease.
Depression affects oral health in more ways than one. First, those suffering are less likely to take care of their oral health. Second, depression also inhibits the body’s ability to fight off inflammation.
An opportunity for intervention
Understanding how mental health affects oral health is extremely important. Mental health clinicians should be aware of the possible complications for those who are suffering from depression or other mental health disorders.
The presence of one mental health challenge often co-occurs with other mental challenges. For example, dental phobia may prevent visits to the dentist. Fears of the dentist may be exacerbated in the presence of the added stress of a major depressive episode or period of heightened anxiety.
We need to increase awareness through education of professionals as well as the general public in order to provide more effective care. Intervening in oral health care is a relatively easy and straightforward approach that can be utilized to improve the general health of those suffering from issues such as depression and/or anxiety.
A holistic perspective
Poor oral health has negative effects on a person’s overall health. Social and psychological areas are also impacted. In addition to causing physical pain, poor oral health may also cause low self-esteem, reducing the likelihood of reaching out to others for support.
It is important to address health on all levels. While treating mental illness can be complex and time-consuming, incorporating good oral hygiene habits and regular visits to the dentist are two interventions we can start today.
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