There are a number of ways oral health may be connected to our mental physical health, according to a myriad of studies. Periodontal disease, AKA gum disease, has been associated with some mental health disorders, particularly clinical depression. Depression is one of the most diagnosed mental health disorders in the United States today, impacting as many as 14.8 million American adults. Depression can be a debilitating illness, affecting your ability to perform daily tasks and negatively impacting your quality of life.
A 2010 study found significant associations between oral health, depression and quality of life. The link between the two may be multi-faceted. First, depression can lead to teeth clenching and grinding, which can increase the risk for periodontal disease. Depression also increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body, which could in turn create a ripe environment in the mouth for periodontal disease.
Depression can suppress the immune system, which may make it hard for your body to fight off bacteria in the mouth that can cause infection. Depression often results in poor eating habits that directly impact the health of your entire body, including your teeth and gums. At the same time, the symptoms associated with depression like sadness, fatigue and loss of motivation could affect how well you care for your teeth, which could lead to periodontal disease over time. Even the medications used to treat depression can dry out the mouth and less saliva means less protection for your teeth and gums. This is why people with chronically dry mouths tend to have a higher incidence of periodontal disease.
Because there is such a compelling link between oral and mental illness, you should share your medical history with your dental provider to ensure you are receiving the oral care you need the most. Your healthy smile does much more than enhance your appearance and increase your self-confidence. The healthy habits you use to retain that bright smile may also benefit your body and provide you will an opportunity to feel better about yourself. Oral hygiene is an important part of any healthy regimen, both now and in the future.