By Lucy Wyndham

    Poor oral health, considered a significant contributor to the burden of disease in Australia, can have serious effects on your comfort, wellbeing, and productivity, but did you know that it is also linked to poor mental health? As noted by The World Health Organization, we should stop viewing the mouth as distinct from the rest of the body because problems with our oral health have a big effect on the rest of the body. It can affect the way we eat and talk, and reduce our quality of life. The relationship between oral and mental issues is bi-directional; that is, each affects the other in important ways.

    How do Mental Health Issues Impact Oral Health?

    Research has shown that although the prevalence of smoking in Australia is decreasing, it is substantially higher among with people with any mental illness. Smoking is just one habit that can lead to gum and tooth disease. Mental illness affects oral health in additional ways, wresting from the motivation to maintain a daily dental routine, for instance. A number of different studies have shown that the consequences of depression can cause other risky behaviours. For instance, those who are depressed or anxious can forget or lack the motivation to brush their teeth. Considering that depression can be diagnosed in youths younger than 19, it is important for parents to teach kids good oral hygiene techniques, since over time, a failure to clean and care for their mouth can lead to tooth loss and gum disease by the time the youth enters early adulthood. This is especially true for those taking antidepressant medication, since some treatments cause a decrease in the production of saliva, which can contribute to tooth decay and other dental problems.

    How do Dental Problems Impact our Mental Health and Wellbeing?

    One study by scientists at Deakin University found that the more dental problems a person with depression has, the greater the severity of this mental illness. Depression is considered an inflammatory disorder. Therefore, habits that promote inflammation (such as following a sugar-rich diet or being overweight), can increase the chances of developing depression from an early age. In the Deakin study, it was found that 61% or persons who said they had oral pain for the previous hear also had depression. When it comes to mental conditions and oral problems, it is a bit of a ‘chicken or the egg situation’ in that it is unclear as to how they affect each other. Mental problems can lead one to neglect their teeth, but dental problems can also have a big effect on our self-confidence and the way we interact socially.

    Many people who are missing teeth or who have severe gum disease are embarrassed to smile; clearly, our oral health has a big effect on the way we interact with others and enjoy life. Of course, battling against mental disease can have a big effect on everything from the way we clean teeth to what we eat. Because both issues affect each other, it is important both to seek treatment if you have depression, anxiety, or another mental condition, but also to brush and floss after every meal, and to see your dentist for regular cleanings and check-ups.

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