How Your Oral Health Affects Your Mental Health

Dental Anxiety ImageUntil recently, most people did not see the link between physical and mental health until recently. Physicians and mental health professionals now see a crucial link between the two, with one affecting the other. There is also more awareness of the connection between oral health and mental health. The link goes both ways, with individuals suffering from mental health problems often neglecting the care of their teeth and gums, leading to tooth loss, cavities, and periodontitis.

How Mental Health Issues Negatively Affect Dental Health

People are more aware of how mental health affects our oral health, primarily because so many people suffer from dental anxiety or phobia. This often leads to problems because individuals do not see a dentist regularly and avoid going until a minor dental problem has become a significant health concern. Sometimes they are so fearful they forego treatment altogether, leading to infections and damage to their physical health.

Some specific mental disorders can have a profound, direct effect on oral health. Patients with bulimia and other eating disorders may repeatedly vomit or purge. This floods the mouth with acids that cause teeth to erode, leading to staining, deterioration, and tooth loss. Addictions such as tobacco and alcoholism also contribute to dental caries and gum disease.

How Oral Health Issues Contribute to Depression

Poor dental health can have a profound effect on your mental health for several reasons. If you are in pain or uncomfortable because of damaged or missing teeth, you are more apt to become depressed, particularly if the symptoms worsen. This can create a cycle of pain contributing to depression, being too depressed to visit your dentist, deteriorating oral health, and so on.

Individuals with crooked teeth, missing teeth, or chronic bad breath due to periodontal disease often become too self-conscious to socialize or enter into relationships. They may not want to laugh or smile in front of others, leading to a lack of healthy relationships. Once again, depression may be the result.  

Poor Oral Health and Cognitive Decline

Studies have confirmed that poor dental health not only increases the risk of heart disease but also increases the risk of stroke, which can lead to brain impairment that is long-lasting and debilitating. Researchers have recently uncovered a potential connection between oral health and reduced cognitive function as individuals age, including problems with executive function and memory.

Another cause for concern is the damage done by oral infections. When infected gums are inflamed, they release substances linked to memory loss and the death of brain cells. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are more likely in patients suffering from gingivitis because the bacteria can infect the bloodstream or spread to nerve channels.

The Trigeminal Nerve Connection

The trigeminal nerve is a major nerve system that directly links the brain to the eyes, jaw, and mouth. The individual nerves in each tooth connect to the maxillary nerves running to the trigeminal nerve. Damage to or irritation of the trigeminal nerve can trigger headaches, toothaches, and general facial pain. Pain from cavities and dental disease can radiate across the face and skull. Many patients see their doctor for recurring headaches or migraines without realizing the problem originates in their teeth.

Good Oral Health’s Impact on Mental Health

There is a definite link between good oral health and good mental health. While there is no direct cause and effect in every situation, there is a substantial increase in mental health issues and brain issues ranging from chronic headaches to dementia in individuals with poor oral health.

To minimize your risk of mental illness and cognitive problems, be sure to brush twice daily and floss to keep your teeth clean and healthy. Visiting our office twice a year for a checkup and professional cleaning is crucial. We can catch oral health problems earlier and treat them more effectively if we see you regularly. The earlier we treat periodontitis, cavities, and other dental issues, the less likely they will negatively impact your mental health and brain function.

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