The Connection Between Mental Health and Oral Health

By: Dr. Elizabeth Eggert

It has long been recognized that mental illness can lead to many inflammatory diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, lung disease and cancer. Recently, however, an increasing amount of attention is being directed at the correlation between mental health and oral health. Understanding this correlation can empower individuals who struggle with mental illness or people whose loved ones struggle with mental illness to take initiative in order to ward off a host of dental problems.

Common mental illnesses and their effect on oral health

Mental illnesses manifest themselves physically in a variety of ways and oral health is no exception:

Anxiety:

On account of the intense stress a person’s body experiences as the result of an anxiety disorder as well as some anti-anxiety medications that inadvertently decrease the mouth’s ability to produce saliva, these are some common oral health problems that can ensue:

  • Bruxism (teeth grinding)
  • TMD (Read our recent post here)
  • Dry mouth
  • Canker sores
  • Burning mouth syndrome
  • Lichen planus
  • Gingivitis or periodontal disease

Depression:

When a person experiences depression, they oftentimes increase their consumption of tobacco products and alcohol. These substances can cause attrition, or weakening of tooth enamel and tooth erosion due to gastro-esophageal reflux.

Eating Disorders:

According to a study with findings published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, between 35% and 38% of people with eating disorders battle tooth erosion. This is due largely to self-induced vomiting, which causes stomach acid to eat away at tooth enamel. Additionally, people who struggle with anorexia report a much greater percentage of decaying, missing and filled teeth than those who do not.

Bipolar:

Because bipolar can lend itself to manic behavior, this often translates into vigorous brushing and flossing that can cause dental abrasion and mucosal or gingival lacerations.

Dementia and Schizophrenia:

On account of psychotropic medications often prescribed for these illnesses, people with dementia and schizophrenia often experience an increase in bacteria-induced decay and gum disease.

Additionally, because people who struggle with varying levels of mental illness often experience an increase in substance abuse and/or a poor diet laden with carbonated drinks and sugary foods, they can truly suffer on multiple fronts. Left unaddressed, most oral health concerns resulting from mental illness lead to eventual tooth loss. So what can be done?

At Eggert Family Dentistry, we want to partner with you to help you achieve optimal dental wellness. If you are concerned about the effects of mental health on your oral health or that of a loved one, schedule an appointment with Dr. Elizabeth or Dr. Jeff today at 651.482.8412.