April 28, 2023 • 10 mins read

Oral Health and Mental Health

Learn how poor oral health can lead to mental health issues, and how to maintain good oral health to improve your mental wellbeing.



Danielle Duncan

Oral Health and Mental Health

One in five is the number of adults in the United States that experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience serious mental illness, while up to 17% of youth, ages 6 to 17 years of age experience mental health disorders. As we begin to take a closer look at how common mental illness is as a society, we can start to understand just how important it is to turn our focus on how to treat, manage, and maintain appropriate mental health care as a society, medical, and even dental professionals. 

Did you know that mental health can also play a role in oral hygiene? As a dental professional, it is important to understand that oral health and mental health are linked and can pose challenges for your patients throughout their lives. 

Much like many other diseases, poor mental health can have a profound effect on whole body health. People who suffer from poor mental health can lean too heavily on coping mechanisms such as smoking, alcohol, or simply avoid attending their annual dental exams. 

What are the behaviors or problems associated with poor mental health that can lead to a decline in oral health? 

1. Depending on sugary foods and beverages. 

Some people who suffer with mental health disorders can lean on comfort foods or sugary foods and beverages to cope. This can lead to dental caries, gum problems, and tooth decay. 

2. Dental anxiety.

Many patients, even those without mental disorders can experience anxiety when it comes to visiting their dentists. This can lead them to avoid their regular dental exams. It is important to remember that dentists play a huge role in relieving any anxiety that their patients may feel before, during, and after treatment. 

3. Loss of appetite. 

Poor nutrition can deprive the body of valuable vitamins, minerals, and the sustenance that it needs. People with a loss of appetite can sometimes present with low levels of calcium that can weaken the enamel of teeth. Some eating disorders triggered by mental illness such as bulimia can also do some major damage to teeth, gums, the throat, and mouth. These patients may also present with dry mouth and the associated problems. 

If your patient complains of a burning sensation on the tongue, roof of the mouth, or inside of cheeks it can be a sign of poor nutrition caused by depression. It is important to have an open line of communication with all of your patients, especially those who suffer from a mental health disorder. 

4. Difficulty performing daily tasks related to oral hygiene. 

Sometimes depression can make it difficult to perform everyday tasks, including following a dental hygiene routine. In these cases it is important to give patients an easy to follow routine during a depressive episode to reduce the risk of extensive damage to the mouth. 

5. Low energy. 

Depression and other mental illnesses can be tiring, leaving the patient unmotivated. Keeping things simple for patients, like those who experience tiredness, can help patients successfully follow a routine even if they lack the motivation. 

6. Alcohol use, drug use, or Smoking. 

Alcohol, drug use, and smoking can all lead to gum disease and oral cancer.  

7. Pain. 

Depression and anxiety can heighten the pain that is felt throughout the body. This can lead to fear or anxiety of going to dental appointments due to the discomfort felt during even the most routine of exams. 

8. Dry Mouth. 

Some mental health medications can increase the risk of dry mouth. Due to the increase of gum disease in those with dry mouth, it is important to take a preventative route if a patient takes antidepressants or antianxiety medication. 

If your patient suffers from a mental health disorder, it is possible to guide them to a better, healthier oral health future by being the pillar of support that they need. 

Giving them an easy to follow oral health care routine, giving them knowledge of the effects of sugary foods and drinks on their oral health, and creating a safe space for them to encourage attendance at their regular dental exams. 

As a dental provider, you are the first line of defense that your patients have in protecting their oral health against mental illnesses. Encouraging healthier lifestyles, creating a positive daily routine, and making them more comfortable about their access to dental health care by caring for their financial health in billing medical insurance can set them up for success and reduce the anxiety they may feel about the financial and physical implications of attending regular dental exams. 

If you haven’t implemented medical billing into your dental practice, our knowledgeable team can help lessen the burden so you can focus on your patients exam anxiety instead! 

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