Experts estimate that more than 50 percent of all American adults will be affected by a behavioral health issue in their life. And as of 2016, 45 million adults lived with a mental illness. Those suffering from a mental health condition often contend with various challenges in their daily lives—one of which is maintaining a high degree of personal hygiene.
Your mental health plays a significant role in your entire body’s overall health and wellness. How? For starters, poor mental health often correlates with increased consumption, a worsened immune system, weakened relationships, and more. Additionally, people who suffer from mental health conditions are more likely to have problems with their teeth and gums.
However, the relationship works both ways. Good oral health can lead to a better sense of overall health and satisfaction in one’s appearance. This can lead to the individual building better habits and relationships. And bad oral health can cause reduced levels of confidence, social anxiety, and more.
Oral health can impact your mental health. Here’s how.
In collaboration with Families USA, Mental Health America (MHA) shares that it is critical that health advocates, health care providers, and policymakers understand how people who live with behavioral health conditions, which includes mental illnesses and substance use disorders, are disproportionately affected by oral health problems, and in turn, how behavioral health issues may contribute to or exacerbate co-occurring health issues.
In other words, there exists a direct link between poor oral health and negative impacts on our mental health and wellbeing.
Consider it this way: Oral health problems arise when individuals struggle with their mental health. They might lack the energy needed to brush and care for their teeth. They might be less inclined to make regular visits to the dentist. And their diet might lack the proper nutrients needed to keep their teeth, gums, and enamel healthy.
We must understand that this isn’t their fault. Mental health impacts every aspect of our lives, from work to relationships. But we also want to be aware of this to actively encourage proper hygiene.
Additionally, individuals with poor mental health are at greater risk of developing habits such as smoking and avoiding contact with others, i.e., failure to visit the dentist regularly. Other possible patterns or side effects of mental illness include the following:
- A loss of appetite and poor nutrition
- Overconsumption of sugary, processed foods and beverages
- Exhaustion and an inability to complete basic hygiene tasks
- Alcohol or drug use
- Dry mouth
On the other hand, those with poor oral hygiene are more likely to suffer from a negative overall body image, lack of confidence, social anxiety, and more. A 2012 study done by Invisalign confirmed that people with straight teeth are perceived as more successful:
When looking at images, Americans perceive those with straight teeth to be 45% more likely than those with crooked teeth to get a job when competing with someone who has a similar skillset and experience. They are also seen as 58% more likely to be successful, as well as 58% more likely to be wealthy.
While we’d like to believe that appearances don’t matter, they do. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t embrace our unique qualities and features; instead, we need to care for our bodies. This includes brushing our teeth, combing our hair, and cleaning our clothes. Being clean increases our sense of confidence. It makes us feel better about ourselves, and those who appear confident tend to attract those around them. This positive connection can lead to a healthier mental state, and the cycle continues.
If you or someone you know struggles with oral health, you’re not alone. The CDC states that 26 percent of adults in the United States suffer from untreated tooth decay. And 46 percent of adults over 30 show signs of gum disease. If you fall into one of these groups, it’s essential to take action. Improving your oral health will not only lead to a healthier body but a healthier mind, too.
What to Do If Your Oral Health Is Lacking
It’s clear to see how oral health can impact your mental health. So, what do we do if we are struggling with our oral health? First things first: schedule an appointment with your dental provider. They will not only establish a baseline for your oral health but also assist you in reaching your goals, whether it be straighter teeth, healthier gums, or even improving your confidence.
Second, establish a regular dental routine. This includes brushing and flossing your teeth at least twice daily. Use a soft-bristled brush so as not to harm your gums, use fluoride toothpaste, and consider incorporating mouthwash to remove any leftover food particles or bacteria. Be mindful of the types of food you consume. Avoid sticky and sugary foods and drinks as they are the common culprits of cavities, bacteria, and tooth decay. Finally, avoid tobacco products, which worsen oral health and lead to harmful downstream conditions.
Oral health is a window to our overall health and wellness. This is because problems in our mouth can affect the rest of our body and poor dental hygiene is often an indicator of a more severe problem. Additionally, poor oral health can significantly impact our mental health. We can ensure a happier and healthier society by raising awareness of this association and actively encouraging regular dental visits and a daily care routine.