Can your mental health affect your oral health?

new study published by the Journal of Clinical Periodontology has suggested that young adults who are suffering from sadness, helplessness and other symptoms of depression, are significantly more likely to also suffer at the hands of oral health diseases.

Researchers monitoring the oral and mental health of more than 500 people, from birth until the age of 30, discovered that those who had regular feelings of depression were almost 20% more likely to also have severe gum disease.

How is depression and gum disease linked?

This study not only makes a connection between depressive episodes and the body’s ability to fight off inflammation; which is one of the early signs of gum disease.

There is much known about the association between emotional and mental health and its connection with the immune health and that’s effect on the body’s health. Alas there’s more not known that is known.

it also provides research to suggest that young adults suffering from symptoms of depression could be more likely to neglect their oral health – this is why dentists need to be vigilant.

It is the dentist’s responsibility to screen, share his/her findings, clinically notate and assist in accessing appropriate care. This is Standard of Care. The appearance of disinterest doesn’t remove that responsibility.

“Understanding that mental disorders can influence the health of our mouth is extremely important. It gives us a platform to be able to increase the standard of oral health, it also increases our clinical and ethical responsibilities.

“More effective education, individual treatment plans, better supportive therapy and aftercare, must be provided for those suffering with depression and other mental health disorders.”

We must therefore improve our ability to spot depression, (just as we would do, dental diseases) which often goes undiagnosed.

Did your dentist recognise the early signs of gum disease?

If you’re concerned that issues regarding anxiety, depression or any other mental health-related problems might be affecting your oral health, the first thing you need to do is visit your GP to discuss your options and what support is available. You should also keep a look-out for any early symptoms of gum disease, which can be easily treated. These can include:

Bad breath

Cartoon of bad breath
Breath odor may be the sign of gum disease and a failure to care for yourself.

There are other causes of bad breath ranging from poor oral hygiene to medical conditions such as some cancers, metabolic disorders or local disorders (ie tonsil/adenoid infection or swelling). Chronic reflux of stomach acids (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD) or snoring can be associated with bad breath too.

Gums appearing puffy or swollen

Your dentist or hygienist should note this immediately and investigate further. It may be superficial or it may be deep and progressed from gingivitis to periodontitis along with the risk of eventual tooth loss.

Gums appearing a dark red colour

The cardinal signs of gum inflammation are – redness, heat, and swelling. The other two sigs of inflammation – pain and dysfunction are usually not present which from a diagnostic standpoint is actually a disadvantage.

Gums bleeding easily, particularly when you are brushing or flossing

Inflammation increases vascularity and the likelihood of bleeding under slight touch or injury. In health -GUMS SHOULD NOT BLEED.

Gums appearing to recede

Gums can recede due to anatomy (either crowding or poorly planned orthodontics) but is also commonly associated with bruxism (tooth grinding) – such damage is referred to as abfraction which often go unobserved or misdiagnosed by dentists and hygienists who simply see them as tooth brush wear from incorrect toothbrushing. Fillings placed without an understanding of cause will repeatedly fall out.

photo of teeth with gum-line notching
Gums can recede due to anatomy (either crowding or poorly planned orthodontics) but is also commonly associated with bruxism (tooth grinding) – such damage is referred to as abfraction

If you have noticed any of the above, it’s important that you also try to schedule a visit to your dentist for a check-up as soon as possible.

“My dentist failed to diagnose gum disease”

If you have already visited your dentist with concerns regarding gum disease and you believe that they have failed to spot any symptoms, or you believe that your dentist may have contributed to ongoing oral health issues through misdiagnosis, poor treatment or negligence, you may be entitled to recompense.

Stephen Bray DDS

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