The mind and the body are often treated as two separate entities, but science has proved time and time again that the mind-body connection is very real. One of those connections that often surprises people is the link between oral health and mental health.
Did you know that people diagnosed with a mental health condition are more likely to have issues with their teeth and gums? There are actually many ways that poor mental health and wellness can impact oral health, and vice versa.
Before we dive in, it's important to make one thing very clear: poor oral hygiene and mental health aren't moral failings, and there's no reason to feel guilt, shame, or inadequacy. In this article, we'll explain the connections between mental health and oral health. And if you're struggling with these issues, we've got your back with tips and resources. Because everyone— including yourself—deserves to be happy and healthy.
The connection between oral health and mental health
Like many relationships, the connection between oral and mental health is a two-way street. A person's mental health may affect a person's will to keep up with their dental hygiene routine or to seek dental care. And on the other hand, poor oral hygiene habits can have a big impact on a person's self-image and, eventually, their mental health.
Ways that your mental health can impact oral health
Fluctuating energy levels can make sticking to routines a challenge. For people with depression or other mood disorders, it's common to experience symptoms like fatigue or loss of motivation. Depending on the severity of symptoms, this can turn everyday tasks into tough obstacles.
The physical symptoms of stress can be damaging. Everyone reacts to stress differently. For some people, stress manifests physically. This could be difficulty sleeping, acne, and stomach pain. And in terms of dental health, severe teeth grinding and jaw clenching over the long-term can eventually lead to tooth damage. (Ouch!) Some people may also unknowingly take out their stress on their teeth by aggressively brushing, which can lead to tooth sensitivity and receding gums.
Alcohol abuse and disordered eating can negatively impact your teeth. Some mental illnesses, like depression, are associated with abuse of alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco—all of which can contribute towards tooth erosion and decay. People with eating disorders that involve purging, like bulimia, may also be more susceptible to tooth decay due to acids in vomit and bile.
Fears and anxieties related to dental care can be an obstacle. Nearly half of all patients experience some anxiety about their dental visits. While it's normal to experience feelings of anxiousness every now and then, people with mental illnesses such as social anxiety disorder may experience a heightened fear or anxiety about visiting the dentist, even if they urgently need to seek care for issues like a toothache or infection.
How oral health can impact mental health and wellness
Oral care can have a significant impact on confidence and self-image. While poor body image isn't a mental illness in itself, it can negatively impact a person's overall wellbeing.
When it comes to oral health, tooth pain, missing teeth, bad breath, or general embarrassment of appearance can impact important areas of life. For example, a person experiencing oral pain or who has missing teeth may have trouble communicating at work or in social situations. While this person may not have a mental illness, their mental wellness is still impacted.
Not being happy with your smile can also impact self-esteem and make it difficult to maintain close relationships. Someone who is embarrassed about their teeth's appearance may try to avoid open-mouth smiles, or speak quietly or minimally in group settings to try to hide their teeth. (A little piece of wisdom from us to you: your smile is beautiful and the world needs to see more of it.)
Building a better relationship between oral care and mental wellness
Now that we've covered the not-so-pleasant spectrum of the oral care and mental wellness connection, let's also make time to look towards the brighter side of it. It is possible to have a positive, healthy relationship with oral care and mental wellness.
If you're experiencing anxiety, lack of motivation, or low self-esteem, consider weaving these practices in your life to help boost your mood while improving your oral health.
Ways to make your oral care routine exciting
Use delightful oral care products. Think: oral care, but make it fashion. All jokes aside, aesthetically pleasing things can help make us happy. Things we perceive as beautiful can elicit feelings of calmness and serendipity. It's one of the reasons we designed our oral care products with so many color options. Whether you gravitate towards bold blue, sleek silver, or trendy rose gold, you're sure to find a bundle that favors high in both performance and personal aesthetic.
Get a good playlist going. If you find it difficult at times to follow through with a routine, try blasting your favorite tunes. Listening to music you enjoy while flossing and brushing can give you something to look forward to. If you have a manual brush, listening to songs in the two-minute range can help you stay on track with the recommended time for daily brushing. Or, you can make things easier on yourself with an electric toothbrush with built-in timer vibrations. You can also make things truly ~fancy~ with a smart toothbrush that automatically tracks routine progress to an app on your phone.
Ways to turn your oral care routine into self-care time
Repeat positive words of affirmation. Brushing your teeth is likely one of the first things you do every morning, so it's a perfect time to say positive affirmations out loud, in front of your mirror. You may feel a little silly at first, but repeating positive words of affirmation can be a real game-changer for your overall mood and daily disposition. Stuck on what to say? Try phrasing your affirmations in the present tense instead of using phrases like "will be," "could," or "should." By saying affirmations in the present tense, you send signals to yourself that these positive things are already your reality, which can have a profound effect. For example, you might try saying, "I am growing each and every day." or "I am freeing myself from all destructive fears and doubts."
Practice gratitude. The recommended time for brushing your teeth is two minutes, twice a day. Add in the time it takes to floss and rinse with mouthwash, and you have a solid several minutes to focus on the positive things in your life and feel gratitude. As you go through your oral care routine, try thinking about the things in your life that you are thankful for and that make you happy. Visualize it and bask in the feel-good emotions every morning and each night.
Ways to ease anxiety during a dental visit
Bring a friend with you. Remember, you never have to go through the tough challenges in life alone! Leaning on the support from those close to you can be incredibly comforting and make scary situations manageable. Sometimes, we just need to know that someone is there—and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. So if you're feeling nervous about your next dentist appointment, let a friend or family member know that you'd appreciate it if they could come along to help ease your nerves.
Be open about your concerns. A fear of the dentist is a very common one. So if you have any concerns or nervousness about an upcoming appointment, feel free to let your dental hygienist and dentist know. There's nothing to be embarrassed about, and they will likely appreciate that you let them know. They are there to help you and try to make your dental experience as pleasant as possible, so knowing about any fears you may have will help them help you.
Bring your headphones. The noise of dental tools and medical settings can sometimes heighten a person's anxieties. If you can relate, then consider bringing headphones on your next appointment. When you get in the chair, ask your hygienist or dentist if it's okay for you to listen to music as they perform dental work. Listening to your favorite songs can help you calm down and drown out the noise of dental tools.
The state of your oral health and mental health are both important, so try incorporating these tips for a healthier, happier you. (And make sure to share this information with others to increase awareness about the oral-mental health connection!)
Also, please remember that help is always here if you need it. If you are struggling with your mental health and want to find help—whether it's a support group, therapist, or psychiatrist—we encourage you to check out the resources available at Mental Health America, or call the Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) if you need immediate support.