Can your oral health influence your mental health?

October is Mental Health Month in South Africa, a time to bring light to the struggles of millions worldwide. But were you aware that your oral health impacts your mental health and vice versa?

Oral health is linked to various other diseases and can signify a greater issue, such as diabetes or heart disease. Your teeth and gums let us know if you have conditions relating to oral health, but also what else is going on in your body (and mind).

The link

So, how exactly do dental health and mental health mix? Well, either one influences the other.

When you neglect your oral health or suffer from an oral health condition, it can harm your self-image and self-esteem. As a result, you may feel worthless and shy away from social settings, leading to social anxiety. In some cases, you can even develop depression.

Similarly, having poor mental health or a specific mental health condition can lead you to struggle with self-care, causing poor oral hygiene. Without regular maintenance or check-ups, your oral hygiene deteriorates, further impacting your mental health.

On the other hand, those who engage in recreational habits to self-soothe, like drinking alcohol or smoking, can also experience adverse effects on their oral health and mental health.

How oral health indicates mental health concern

As dentists, we see much more than you realise. For example, there are tell-tale signs from your teeth and gums that you may be struggling mentally. 

Teeth grinding and a locked jaw can be symptoms of an anxiety disorder that causes stressful sleep and picking habits, whereas poor oral hygiene can indicate depression.

On the other hand, worn enamel can signal OCD from over-brushing your teeth, and excessive decay may be linked to an eating disorder.

There are several other reasons why patients may exhibit these signs, but mental health plays a significant role. As medical professionals, it’s our job to look out for your overall health.

Managing oral and mental health

Just as oral and mental health can negatively impact each other, they can also have positive impacts. When you improve your overall health, you will notice an improvement in all areas.

Here are some of our tips for caring for both your oral and mental health:

1. Visit your dentist

Your dental experience should be free from judgement and a safe space to discuss your needs and concerns. Seeing your dentist regularly can help improve your oral health, thus boosting your mental health. 

During dental check-ups, we examine your teeth and gums, perform a professional cleaning and offer expert advice on maintaining your gum health. If you have any questions or concerns about your oral health, we are more than happy to address them.

2. Eat a balanced diet

Nutrition is a major factor in both dental and mental health. By avoiding processed and sugary foods, you can protect your enamel and avoid tooth decay that could lead to more severe concerns, such as cavities and gum disease. 

Simultaneously, eating nutritious food has been linked to improved brain function and balanced hormones, promoting positive mental health. Consuming processed and sugary foods only causes further mood changes and poor function.

3. Manage stress levels

Stress can heavily impact your physical and mental health, so it’s best to incorporate practices that keep it at bay. Remember to drink enough water, set aside time for rest and do activities that lower your stress levels.

By eliminating excess stress, you can promote better mental health and, in turn, maintain a better dental hygiene routine.

4. Move more

Daily movement allows you to clear your head and get a boost of energy and happy hormones. Even going for a short walk daily can work wonders for your mood and anxiety. Aim to keep an active routine if you struggle with your mental health.

5. Keep it simple

Daily brushing, flossing, and regular dental visits are all you need to keep your teeth in check. There’s no need to go overboard with charcoal toothpaste, mouthwash or home cleaning kits. If you stick to a consistent routine with your dental hygiene and mental health, you will see a significant benefit for both. 

If you or someone you know is dealing with mental health struggles, contact SADAG or one of their helplines.

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