Tales from the Operatory: Depression & Oral Health

The Link Between Depression and Oral Health

Depression and oral health, there’s a relationship? Yes. Depression is one of the most common mental health problems in the world. More than 280 million are affected globally, according to the World Health Organization. When you or someone you love is struggling with depression, it can be easy to overlook oral health. Yet maintaining good oral care is an important factor in your overall mental health.

Overcoming the Oral Care Challenges of Depression

Motivating yourself to brush and floss can often be a challenge even when times are good. But when you’re dealing with depression, you’re even less likely to keep up with your oral care routine or to visit your dentist.

Research Insights: Depression’s Impact on Oral Health

The connection between depression and oral health doesn’t end there. Recent research on mouth ulcers suggests a genetic link between depressive symptoms and the mouth. While the research is just at a starting point, it may provide some insight in understanding the deep link between your mood and oral health. Additionally, there is a suggested connection between depression and decreased salivary flow, a condition that can increase cavity-causing bacteria and the risk of gum disease.

Key Oral Health Issues in Mental Illness

Some of the main issues for those suffering with mental illness include:

  • Neglect: Research has shown that those suffering from mental illnesses tend to avoid dental care so much that their oral hygiene is neglected. This can result in gum disease and tooth decay.
  • Anxiety: Many people suffer from some form of dental phobia and as a result, stop seeing their dentist regularly. Infrequent dental visits have a severe impact on oral health.
  • Eating disorders: Those who suffer from conditions such as Bulimia often experience dental erosion from the acidity in vomit. Low levels of calcium are also common, which could affect the health of the teeth.
  • Brushing actions: Over-vigorous brushing actions by those with bipolar as similar disorders could result in them brushing away the enamel on the surface of the tooth.
  • Medication: they are taking may produce adverse oral effects, especially dry mouth, which is as a result of reduced salvia flow.

The Vicious Cycle of Depression and Poor Oral Health

Good oral health also affects your overall health and can help improve your mental health. Depression is linked to higher levels of dental caries (decay). Additionally, adults with depression are more likely to have missing teeth than adults without depression. Periodontal (gum) disease is associated with higher scores on measures of depression. Early evidence suggests that treatment for depression is more effective in individuals with better periodontal health. Scores on measures of depression are higher in individuals with a temporomandibular disorder (TMD) — that is, chronic pain in the face and jaw — compared to those without a TMD. Young adults with a history of depression are more likely to have extended use of opioid prescriptions after third molar (wisdom tooth) removal than those without depression.

Addressing Dry Mouth and Its Consequences

Depression can affect your oral health through the salivary glands. When the production of saliva is restricted, you can have a dry mouth, which results in a higher risk for tooth decay. A consistent side effect of anti-depressants is dry mouth. When you have a dry mouth, it’s difficult to produce saliva, which can lead to several problems, such as:

  • Difficulty eating and speaking
  • Cracked lips
  • Burning sensation in the mouth
  • Bad breath
  • Increased risk for cavities and gum disease

The Overlooked Dental Side Effects of Medication

If you’ve ever consulted the product information insert of a medication’s side effects, you may have noticed there is no specific section for oral and dental. Typically, the only reference made to anything in relation to the mouth is dryness. It doesn’t elucidate that without enough saliva dry mouth can develop into sores and oral thrush. It makes no mention that dry mouth increases plaque, and sets a road for itself to tooth decay and gum disease.

Medication-Induced Bruxism: A Silent Culprit

The known dental side effect that’s not even mentioned is the diminished regulation of bone metabolism: crucial to the healing process of dental implants. The University of Buffalo researchers found that the use of antidepressants quadrupled the odds of implant failure.

Substantially under-recognized in dentistry is medication-induced bruxism. Associated almost exclusively with the selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors commonly prescribed for anxiety and depression, they are symptoms that simply can’t be resolved while the medication continues.

Proactive Steps for Maintaining Oral Health

Keeping your regular checkups will let us identify any potential problems that may develop in the future. If you struggle with depression, your teeth may show it at different levels. In general, the health of your mouth will suffer from the effects of depression.

Luckily, when depression or anxiety takes a toll on oral health, there are ways to fight back. The simplest step to maintaining oral health is brushing twice daily and flossing daily. Keeping up these basic oral health habits can go a long way to keeping your mouth in tip-top shape.

In addition, eat a healthy diet and avoid sugary drinks. Visit your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings. And, if you’re a smoker, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your oral—and overall—health.

Columbia Dental providers understand the nuances and side effects of prescription medication and how they may affect your oral health. It is very important to share your medication list with your provider. You don’t want to experience any harmful drug interactions.

You want to be aware of the effects of your condition on your body. Columbia Dental providers can ensure they help you understand the effects on your body and can significantly help your mouth recover.

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