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Exploring the connection between mental health and
oral health

Uncover the critical link between mental & oral health. Learn how psychological well-being can influence dental health.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and Aspen Dental wants to shine a light on the important but often overlooked link between our oral health and mental well-being.

In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to let oral health slide down our list of priorities. We might grind our teeth during stressful moments, occasionally skip flossing, or even feel nervous about visiting the dentist. Feelings of dental anxiety and waning motivation for daily routines have become prevalent experiences for a growing number of people.

However, when days without proper dental care turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months of missed dentist appointments, our oral health inevitably begins to decline. Neglecting routine dental care may seem minor initially, but over time it can result in gum disease and tooth decay. These issues not only detract from the vibrancy of your smile but can also lead to bad breath and social anxiety, increasing reluctance to seek professional dental care.

A diagram shows conditions that impact mental and oral health, including tooth decay, gum disease, bad breath, depression, and anxiety, with corresponding images around a central text.

Can our oral hygiene impact our mental health?

Have you ever thought to yourself: “My teeth are affecting my mental health?”. It's easy to understand how our internal struggles could lead to letting our oral hygiene slide. When we're feeling depressed, anxious or overwhelmed, something as simple as brushing and flossing can feel like a monumental task. However, the reverse is also true – our oral health can profoundly impact our mental and emotional well-being.

When we undergo oral issues like tooth loss, pain from decay, gum disease, or a misaligned smile, it can take a major toll psychologically. Having missing teeth or rotting teeth can severely undermine our self-confidence and self-esteem. It can make us feel unattractive and embarrassed about our appearance.

Beyond just the cosmetic aspect, dental problems like decay or gum disease frequently cause chronic pain and discomfort. Intense, unrelenting toothaches or infections can be mentally draining over time. The constant ache and challenges with eating or speaking can not only affect nutrition but also lead to irritability, difficulty concentrating, and in some cases, symptoms of depression.

The social implications of oral health issues are another factor that impacts mental health. Those struggling with problems like tooth cracks, halitosis (bad breath), tooth loss, or unsightly stains or decay often withdraw from social situations out of embarrassment. They may avoid conversing, laughing, or eating around others. This isolation and reluctance to engage can severely diminish quality of life and mental well-being.

Breaking down barriers: oral health's impact on mental well-being

The connection between oral health and mental well-being is multifaceted, with a variety of biological, psychological, and socioeconomic factors at play. It's a complex interplay that can quickly spiral into a vicious cycle, making it crucial to address these barriers holistically.

The biological link

Poor oral health doesn't just affect your smile. Conditions like gum disease or tooth loss can lead to more than just physical discomfort—they can significantly impact your mental health. In a study conducted by the National Library of Medicine¹, researchers found that there is an intersectional correlation between oral and mental health, which can cause a “dysregulated microbiome, translocated bacteria, and systemic inflammation, among others.” This physical discomfort and deterioration can take a toll on mental well-being, exacerbating feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.

The psychological burden

Beyond the physical aspects, dental anxiety and the shame or embarrassment associated with oral health problems can significantly impact an individual's psychological state. The fear of judgement or discrimination due to the appearance or condition of one's teeth can lead to social isolation, low self-esteem, and a diminished quality of life.

At Aspen Dental, we’ve heard this story many times over, and our care team is dedicated to not only providing you excellent oral care, but most importantly giving you the assurance and compassion to get you the dental results you need, with zero judgement.

The socioeconomic factor: Oral health disparities and mental health

Unfortunately, socioeconomic circumstances like income level, education, and insurance coverage can impact one's ability to access dental care. Those from underserved or marginalized communities may face greater obstacles in receiving dental treatment, potentially leading to poorer oral health outcomes. These disparities can then perpetuate existing socioeconomic challenges and negatively influence mental well-being. 
Moreover, the stigma associated with poor oral health can further marginalize individuals and contribute to social isolation and discrimination. The psychological toll of feeling judged or discriminated against due to one's oral health status can have profound effects on mental well-being, particularly among vulnerable populations.

Close-up of a smiling person with freckles on the left; a list of dental services, including teeth whitening, veneers, dentures, Motto clear aligners, and dental implants, to restore smile and confidence on the right.

Cosmetic dentistry: Restoring smiles and confidence

Fortunately, modern cosmetic dentistry offers solutions to help address these oral health issues and improve our mental outlook as well. Here are cosmetic dentistry treatments that we offer at Aspen Dental to get your smile back:

With an improved smile, we can once again laugh, speak, and interact without hesitation or embarrassment. We can feel proud to show our teeth rather than hiding them. This newfound confidence boosts self-esteem and overall life satisfaction in immeasurable ways. Cosmetic dentistry doesn't just improve our oral health – it can truly elevate our mental, emotional, and social well-being too.

¹Skallevold, H. E., Rokaya, N.,
Wongsirichat, N., & Rokaya, D. (2023). Importance of oral health in mental health disorders: An updated review. Journal of oral biology and craniofacial research, 13(5), 544–552.

A smiling older man and woman sitting and leaning forward while stretching their arms and touching their foot during an outdoor exercise session in a park on a sunny day.

Practicing self-care matters

While taking care of your oral hygiene is crucial, we can’t forget the importance of self-care and the benefits it can have on the body. High levels of stress, anxiety and overall poor mental health can directly impact your oral health.

For example, when we’re overwhelmed by stress, our bodies produce higher levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone.” Too much cortisol can lead to inflammation, which can increase your risk of periodontal disease due to inflamed gums. Anxiety may also cause you to subconsciously grind or clench your teeth, leading to enamel erosion, jaw pain and potentially cracked teeth over time.

That's why incorporating comprehensive self-care practices is vital. Taking care of your physical health through regular exercise and a nutritious diet offers tremendous mental health benefits as well. Exercise releases endorphins that improve mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and promote better sleep. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats nourishes both body and mind.

Make time each day to unwind and nurture your mental health through activities like:

  • Meditation/deep breathing exercises

  • Gentle yoga or stretching

  • Journaling

  • Spending time outdoors

  • Listening to calming music

  • Reading an uplifting book

Building a strong support system is key, too. Whether it's close friends, family or a therapist, having people you can open up to about your struggles makes a big difference.

By prioritizing your overall self-care through mental, physical, and emotional outlets, you'll be better equipped to maintain good oral health while reducing risks like teeth grinding and gum disease.

A happy family of three, with a man, woman, and their son, sharing a joyful moment at home, positioned in front of a large window, with an illustration of a blue smile across the image.

We’re here to help brighten your smile

At Aspen Dental, we understand just how impactful a healthy, beautiful smile can be for both your physical and mental health. Our mission is to support you in achieving excellent oral health while boosting your confidence and quality of life. Your bright, beaming smile is just around the corner at Aspen Dental. Book your appointment now and let's get you looking and feeling like the best version of you!

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