Mental health and physical health are closely linked; this is known as the mind-body connection. An example of this might be someone with anxiety who suffers muscular tension, but a less obvious (though common) example relates to how mental health affects the teeth and gums.
Dental problems can affect the appearance of teeth, impacting self-esteem and interpersonal relationships. For someone struggling with their mental health, getting support and treatment from a mental healthcare professional is just as important as seeking help from a dentist who can provide pain management or cosmetic procedures.
In most cases, cosmetic dental treatments such as dental veneers are only available on the NHS if they are clinically necessary. For those on a low income, speaking with a dentist about ways to cover the cost of dental treatment can help.
It’s also important to find a reputable cosmetic dentist who has been approved by an official body such as the BACD: cosmetic dentistry is not without risks, which is why it’s important to find a clinician who is properly trained and experienced, with their patient’s best interests in mind.
The connections between poor oral and mental health are complex. Some examples include:
- Tooth decay or gum disease in cases of self-neglect resulting from low self-esteem or self-worth can reduce a person’s motivation to take care of themselves.
- Enamel damage from over-brushing (sometimes seen in those with bipolar and similar disorders), or acidic vomit (in bulimia patients and those who struggle with symptoms such as anxiety and nausea).
- Tooth damage or loss due to substance misuse or certain medications such as antidepressants, which may cause dry mouth and tooth decay (in both cases, speaking with a GP to get support with addiction or switching medications can help).
- Some studies suggest a link between depression and chronic inflammatory diseases including oral diseases such as periodontitis.
If you are struggling with your mental and oral health, there are some small steps you can take towards feeling well again, in particular, establishing a routine to help you feel calmer and more in control of things (such as setting an alarm on your phone to remind you to brush twice a day).
Be kind to yourself throughout this process and ask for support from your healthcare providers if you need it. Change is unlikely to happen overnight and you do not need to try all of these at once, but even small tweaks to your daily routine can make a big difference. For someone struggling with mental health issues, even simple self-care can feel difficult. In more severe cases, a carer may be required to help.
Learn to recognise the warning signs of dental health issues, such as pain, bleeding or infection. A good place to start is the Oral Health Foundation, which offers a helpline giving free, impartial advice.
Pain is not an acceptable state for anybody to be in; it’s a signal that your body and mind need care, and it’s important to recognise that you deserve this as much as anyone. Dental health issues in those struggling with mental health are very common, but it is possible for things to improve so that your body and mind can start feeling better.
Robert Haynes did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.