The links between dental health and overall physical health are apparent – an infected tooth leads to pain, tooth loss makes it harder to eat, and gum disease can lead to an inflamed mouth. These unpleasant physical sensations often lead us straight to the dentist to get the problem resolved right away. Physical symptoms are not the only outcome of poor dental health, though. The impact of dental health on your mental health is often overlooked because the correlation between the two may not seem as clear. However, your mental health is no less important than the health of your body. Recent research studies have shown the links between several mental disorders and disorders of the mouth. Understanding how these issues are connected can help you improve both your physical and mental state. In this blog post, we’ll explore how dental health early in life can predict mental issues to come, how stress in our adult life can have a significant impact on our teeth, and how elderly people can avoid poor mental health outcomes by taking care of their oral health.
Predicting Mental Health Outcomes From Baby Teeth
Dental health doesn’t just provide an indicator for current mental health – it might also be able to predict mental health outcomes in the future. One study from the University of Bristol looked at growth marks in baby teeth collected in the 1990s, then compared them to certain markers of a stressful environment as the children grew up. The researchers found that certain growth patterns of the teeth correlated to mothers with histories of psychiatric problems, stressful events in the prenatal period, levels of social support, and neighborhoods with high poverty levels or unsafe environments. These growth patterns created a kind of history of external trauma that the children experienced.
Stress And Dental Health
For adults, a primary factor in tooth damage is stress. Stress can lead to teeth grinding, jaw clenching, and other habits that can put intense pressure on teeth. If these habits persist, teeth can crack or wear down, requiring dental treatment. A recent example of the public health implications of stress is a report from the American Dental Association stating that their dentists had seen a sharp increase in teeth grinding due to stress related to the pandemic. There’s no doubt that the pandemic time was stressful for us all, and dentists saw this mental trauma reflected in our teeth.
Increased stress levels can lead to production of a hormone called cortisol. As cortisol increases, the immune system weakens. This weakening of the immune system can cause or intensify gum diseases like gingivitis or periodontitis. Stress is not only a risk factor in tooth damage – it can affect the health of our gums as well. There’s no simple solution to solving stress, but being aware of the health impacts can provide motivation to change habits and cut stress-inducing factors out of your life.
Dental Health And Aging
Maintaining dental and mental health is especially important in your golden years. Several studies have linked good oral health with maintaining mental acuity as we get older. This is especially true for dementia. One study from New York University linked tooth loss to increased odds for dementia in patients. They found that with each additional tooth lost, the chances for dementia increased. One bit of good news from their research is that adults that lost teeth but replaced them with dentures actually decreased their odds of suffering mental impairment. This is a great example of dental health interventions having positive outcomes for mental health.
Another study by a group of researchers in Finland confirmed the findings of the NYU team by associating periodontal disease with a 23% higher chance of cognitive decline and a 13% higher risk of dementia. About 10-15% of the global adult population has some kind of gum disease, so these findings foreshadow a potential public health risk. By maintaining your oral health well into old age, you might be able to prevent some pretty serious mental health problems.
Good dental health is not a cure-all for mental disorders. However, there is some pretty compelling evidence that tooth problems can either indicate or intensify existing mental health issues. A healthy body leads to a healthy mind, so it’s very important to keep up your dental health to improve your odds of living a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life.