4 Ways Mental Health Can Affect Teeth and Gums

Man sitting on a bench with his dog and sharing moments of love and affection.

About 21% of American adults, or 52.9 million people, struggle with mental health issues. Mental health problems can cause medical problems, like diabetes, heart disease and stroke. They can impact people in many ways, such as depression, stress and anxiety. But research shows that mental health problems also can cause people to engage in behaviors that impact their oral health. Review four ways mental health can affect teeth and gums.

  1. Tooth decay

    Studies show that 66% of people with depression say they’ve had a toothache, a sign of tooth decay, in the past year. Often people with depression rank their oral health as fair or poor.

    Dental experts report that people struggling with mental issues tend to forget to brush and floss their teeth every day. If oral hygiene habits aren’t practiced, food particles can combine with harmful oral bacteria to attack tooth enamel and cause decay. If not treated, bacteria also can attack gums.

    People dealing with mental health issues may take medications to help them deal with depression. These drugs may dry out oral tissues, so there is less saliva in the mouth to help rinse food particles from teeth and gums. The buildup can cause harmful bacteria to grow.

  1. Gum disease

    Studies show that people suffering from depression and associated stress are about 20% more likely to have severe gum disease, also known as periodontal disease or periodontitis. Research shows that depression and anxiety can increase the hormone cortisol in the body. High cortisol levels can weaken the immune system, putting people at risk for gum inflammation and disease. If gums bleed when brushed, it could be gingivitis, the first sign of gum disease.

  1. Poor nutrition

    When people are depressed and dealing with mental health issues, they may eat more sugary foods and consume less nutritious drinks. Poor nutrition can reduce calcium in the body, weakening tooth enamel. Keep teeth and gums healthy by eating foods rich in these three minerals and vitamins:
    1. Calcium – Low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, canned salmon, almonds and dark green leafy vegetables
    2. Phosphorus – Eggs, fish, lean meat, nuts and beans
    3. Vitamin C – Citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, potatoes and spinach

  1. Dental anxiety

    Many people are anxious about seeing the dentist. They worry about oral problems, what the dentist may find, and how much it will cost. However, putting off dental exams and professional cleanings puts people at higher risk for gum disease, or oral problems that could stem from underlying medical conditions. Review four coping techniques to make dental visits easier.

    Learn more about the connection between mental and oral health.

Oral Health Foundation
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