Could flossing every day help prevent depression? Does having anxiety increase the risk for developing gum disease?

The relationship between mental health and oral health is a cyclical one. More and more research is revealing that keeping a healthy mouth is an important part of keeping a healthy mind, and vice versa. People with mental health issues are less likely to take proper care of their oral health, and conversely, good oral health can enhance mental and overall well-being.

For Mental Health Awareness Month this May, take some time to remind your employees of the often-overlooked relationship between dental hygiene and mental health. You can use Delta Dental resources to help them understand that caring for their oral health is a central part of caring for their mental health.

The relationship between the mouth and the mind

Oral health and mental health are more closely linked than many people realize. Mental health issues can cause people to brush and floss at irregular intervals, skip dentist visits, maintain unhealthy diets and self-medicate with smoking or drug use, resulting in gum disease and tooth decay.

Some of the mental illnesses that can negatively impact oral health include:

  • Anxiety. Anxiety and dental phobia can stop people from seeing their dentist regularly, which can harm their oral health. In addition, medications prescribed for anxiety can cause dry mouth. Without saliva to rinse away food debris, plaque and bacteria, cavities can form more easily.
  • Depression. Depression is associated with higher abuse of alcohol, coffee and tobacco, all of which can cause tooth erosion and decay. Depression can also lead to self-neglect, which results in poor oral hygiene.
  • Eating disorders. Acids from vomiting make patients with eating disorders more susceptible to tooth decay.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder. The condition often causes over-brushing that may damage gums and cause dental abrasion, mucosal lacerations or gingival lacerations.
  • Schizophrenia and psychosis. These serious mental health conditions can cause people to forego dental care, eat poorly and neglect oral hygiene. Side effects of antipsychotic and mood stabilizer drugs may include a higher susceptibility to oral bacterial infections.

Certain mental health conditions can exacerbate poor oral health, and the converse is often also true: Poor oral health can make mental health issues worse. Oral health problems can lead to more frequent pain experience, social isolation and low self-esteem, reducing quality of life and in turn diminishing mental well-being.

A recent study even showed a strong association between chronic gingivitis and subsequent depression. More research is needed to fully understand the connection, but it highlights that maintaining oral health is a crucial part of maintaining a healthy and happy life.

Helping your employees maintain their mental health and oral health

No matter what issues your employees are facing, it’s important to remind them to keep up with routine oral health care and dental visits. Encourage employees to maintain healthy habits like cutting back on sugar, reducing stress, eating a balanced diet and quitting smoking. Staying hydrated, exercising and maintaining a good social support system are also crucial to maintaining mental health through difficult times.

The following resources can help you remind employees to care for their oral health while maintaining their mental well-being. With Delta Dental resources, you can:

Mental health affects the health of the entire body, including oral health. It’s an important link that unfortunately, many people don’t understand. For Mental Health Awareness Month, remind your employees that there is no mental health without oral health.