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Is There A Connection Between Oral Health And Mental Health?

In all realms of healthcare, we are seeing an increasing focus on mental health as we continue to learn how essential it is to both quality of life and physical health.  Mental health has an impact on a person’s ability to care for himself or herself in any realm, of which oral health is an important one.  Poor oral health and significant dental disease can also affect the brain and may play a role in significant cognitive disorders.  The connection between oral health and mental health is reciprocal, and we will explain the various connections in this week’s blog.

How Mental Health Affects Oral Health

Impaired mental health tends to negatively impact the way a person cares for his or her teeth.  Patients with mental challenges like dementia or other disabilities are unable to perform the necessary tasks to maintain good oral health.  Poor mental health often leads to a lack of focus and inconsistency that causes extremely poor oral hygiene.

Mentally challenged patients, due to poor plaque control, have a significantly higher risk for dental diseases like cavities and gum disease.  Many patients who suffer from mental health problems also take multiple prescription medications that affect the mouth.  These medications often cause the side effect of severe dry mouth, which leads to even more plaque accumulation.

How Oral Health Can Affect Mental Health

The connection in the other direction still needs more research, but the most recent studies are showing that poor oral health has a negative effect on mental health over someone’s lifetime.  

The scientific research is studying the plaques (diseased areas) in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease who had died.  Researchers found bacteria specific to chronic periodontal disease in the brain.  Another study collected cerebrospinal fluid from living patients with Alzheimer’s disease and found the same.  

The important consideration is that these particular bacteria are not present in healthy mouths.  There is not enough evidence at this time to show that periodontal disease causes Alzheimer’s disease, so research is ongoing.  The studies are suggesting that chronic gum disease could be a risk factor for dementia.  

What Can I Do to Protect Both My Oral Health and My Mental Health?

Because the link goes both directions, it is important to protect both your oral health and your mental health.  Since we are not mental health experts, we will leave any advice on how to preserve your mental health to them.  We are, however, oral health experts, and by following the recommendations we provide, you can ensure your best oral health throughout your lifetime.

Commit to Daily Oral Hygiene Routines for Great Plaque Control

Few people have a healthy respect for the dangers of dental plaque.  It is responsible for cavities, gum disease, and bad breath.  Research connects it to heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.  And still, many people remain unconcerned about effectively cleaning their teeth.

A good oral hygiene routine must include brushing the teeth twice each day and flossing every night.  Plaque collects on the teeth within a few hours of brushing or flossing, so this must be a consistent routine.  When you do not remove plaque every day, it begins to mineralized, or harden, on the teeth in the form of tartar or calculus.  The bad news here is that you cannot remove tartar with a toothbrush and floss.  It requires specialized dental tools for removal.

See Your Dentist Consistently for Preventive Care

More than 90% of dental diseases are preventable.  When you see your dentist on a consistent schedule for professional teeth cleanings (which remove all the plaque and tartar buildup from the teeth) and full mouth evaluations, you can take preventive action.  Your dentist will spot any warning signs or risk areas of dental disease.  He or she will give you tips on better oral hygiene or dental treatments that can stop the disease before it starts.

In general, the average adult should see his or her dentist every six months for professional teeth cleanings and oral evaluations.

Follow Through on any Necessary Dental Treatment

Preventive dental visits are wonderful for keeping your teeth healthy.  In addition, if you have any active dental problems, you should follow through on the recommended treatment.  Bacterial infections in the mouth spread and grow without intervention by a dentist.  Cavities get larger and move toward the nerve inside the tooth.  Gum disease worsens and destroys more and more of the supporting tissues around the teeth.  These disease processes will continue unless you have dental treatment.

by Rockland Dental Specialists

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