Why Your Mental Health History Matters to the Dentist

With anxiety disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder, it is possible to overdo it with the toothbrushing.

Ever wondered why you’re asked to answer detailed questions about your mental health history when you’re at a routine teeth cleaning? It can be tempting to skip those uncomfortable questions in all that paperwork at the dentist’s office. What many people don’t know, though, is that their oral health really does affect their mental health, and vice versa. Here are some of the ways that psychiatric issues can negatively impact your teeth and oral health.

Anxiety Disorders

With anxiety disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder, it is possible to overdo it with the toothbrushing. Brushing too hard and too long can harm a person’s gums and scrape away at the enamel on their teeth. This can lead to a gradual decay and premature loss of teeth.

“Bruxism,” better known as grinding one’s teeth, is also not uncommon in those with anxiety issues. It can happen as a stress response, whether consciously or unconsciously. Sometimes it can occur during one’s sleep. Bruxism can wear away at tooth enamel and increase susceptibility to cavities and pain.

Mood disorders like major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder are associated with higher rates of tooth decay, for various reasons, according to a 2016 study in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. Those with untreated depression are more likely to engage in “self-soothing” behaviors like smoking and drinking, which can cause reflux and in turn erosion of the teeth. Teeth grinding also occurs more often in people with depression.

Meanwhile, psychotropic medications for these conditions—lithium and some antidepressants, for example—can also contribute to conditions like “xerostomia” or dry mouth. When left unaddressed, dry mouth can contribute to tooth decay in the long run.

Severe Mental Illness

“People with severe mental illness have 2.8 times the likelihood of losing all their teeth, compared with the general population,” an article from Cleveland Clinic reported. It was citing a 2015 meta-analysis of 25 studies that found those with schizophrenia and other serious mental health issues experienced significantly higher rates of gum disease and decay.

What might explain this disparity? A severe mental illness can make it harder to stay regular with teeth cleanings and daily dental care. The side effects of antipsychotics and other psychotropic medications, which can cause various issues that affect oral health, can be another contributor. Still other research has found a link between mouth bacteria and bacterial infections that lead to gum disease and decay in people with schizophrenia.

These are just some of the ways that mind, mood, and related behavioral choices are closely related to oral health. They help to explain why your mental health history matters to your dentist. In the end they’re not just being nosy—they’re doing their job.

Press Release Distributed by The Express Wire

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