Two of the most common mental health issues that affect both neurotypical and neurodivergent people are depression and anxiety. While it is generally understood that these conditions can lead to poor overall health outcomes, what isn’t talked about as much is how they can directly impact someone’s dental health. Whether you’re struggling with these conditions yourself or are taking care of someone who is, there is hope for a better future and brighter smiles—just keep reading to get the advice you need.
Depression & Oral Health
Depression can have many causes, with a few of the most prominent being genetics, lifestyle, and life circumstances. Generally, it is characterized by the person being overwhelmed by feelings of sadness and hopelessness. This can also be accompanied by a lack of physical energy.
As you can imagine, when someone feels this way, it’s not only difficult to put in the effort to brush and floss, but many turn to comfort eating as well. A lack of oral hygiene as well as an increased intake of processed/sugary foods are a one-two punch that dramatically raises the risk of cavities and gum disease.
The key for a depressed person is to start small. Asking them to brush twice a day and floss once after not taking care of their teeth at all can be overwhelming, so having them brush just once a few days a week is a good baby step. Something is better than nothing!
Anxiety & Oral Health
With anxiety, a person is never able to fully relax mentally or physically. They are constantly worried about a wide variety of things and feel like they should do something, but they typically don’t know where to start, which leads to even more anxiety.
This cycle can go one of two ways when it comes to oral care. The person becomes burnt out and just avoids brushing and flossing altogether, or they do the opposite and brush too frequently or use too much pressure. Either way, this can quickly lead to damage to the teeth and gums.
One method to help with this is to establish a calming routine in the morning and evening that incorporates oral hygiene but isn’t solely focused on it. This can make it easier for the person to relax while also building in brushing and flossing without making too big a deal of it. The key is to allow for plenty of time and include activities that soothe the person, whatever they might be.
You’re Not Alone
Of course, if you or someone you care about is dealing with anxiety and/or depression, it’s good to know you have experts who are ready to help. Dentists understand the connection between mental and oral health better than anyone, so they can offer personalized solutions for patients working through these challenges. And, mental health professionals such as psychologists and psychiatrists can be consulted as well to see if medication could provide even more assistance.
Once a person is able to start taking care of their teeth consistently, this can give them the motivation to do it even more, which can lead to a boost in confidence and an overall improvement in mental health. It’s hard to feel bad when you know you have a winning smile!
About the Author
Dr. Frank Ford is a general dentist and dental anesthesiologist with almost 50 years of experience, and for the majority of his career, he has focused on meeting the dental needs of special needs patients. If you are a parent or caregiver, he can offer the support and expertise you need to ensure that your loved one/patient always has a bright smile no matter what challenges they face. To learn more about our practice, Disability Dental Services, or schedule an appointment, click here.