The Surprising Link Between Oral Health and Mental Health

by | Jun 17, 2024 | Blog Posts

The Surprising Link Between Oral Health and Mental Health

Most people know there’s a link between oral health and overall health, but not everyone realizes that oral health and mental health are also linked. In the United States, more than one in five adults live with some mental illness, which refers to conditions that affect mood, behavior, and thinking.[1]  But how does mental health affect oral health, and can the opposite be true?

Health and Mental Health: How Mental Illness Affects Oral Health

Mental illnesses are varied, but they can all wreak havoc on overall well-being, including oral.

When someone struggles with issues like depression or anxiety, brushing and flossing may not be a priority. It can be challenging to muster the energy to tackle basic hygiene, potentially leading to cavities and more. Anxiety can also make the thought of turning to dentists more difficult since many people who experience generalized anxiety disorders also suffer from dental anxiety.[2]

There are specific mental health problems, too, which have adverse effects on oral health. Eating disorders can quickly damage teeth and gums. Bulimia nervosa, which is characterized by overeating and purging, can damage tooth enamel with stomach acids and lead to gum disease or other health issues.[3]

Even the treatment of mental illness can sometimes affect oral health. Antidepressants can cause a decrease in saliva production, leading to dry mouth. Saliva helps eliminate bacteria and plays a significant role in the remineralization of enamel, so not enough can worsen the damage bacteria cause.[4]

Mental illness can also lead to poor nutrition, which may also lead to oral health issues. Your teeth and body can suffer if you’re not getting the nutrients you need.

People who struggle with anxiety may grind their teeth. Teeth grinding, or bruxism, can wear down enamel and even crack teeth.

Can Poor Oral Health Affect Mental Health?

Poor oral health results in tooth decay and gum issues that can worsen mental health conditions. You may feel embarrassed about smiling or even speaking for fear of other people noticing your oral health issues. This could keep you from socializing. Isolation is a serious concern for anyone, but it can be especially detrimental for people who are already struggling with mental health concerns.

Suffering from oral pain can lead to anxiety and high levels of stress and can cause or worsen mental health concerns. The pain could also make you more anxious about experiencing discomfort at the dentist’s office, so you may put it off, only to cause worsening symptoms.

Strategies to Manage Oral Health

When dealing with mental health challenges, it’s difficult to focus on anything but the psychological discomfort. However, having strategies and habits in place can help you maintain good oral health so that you don’t struggle with dental issues alongside mental illness.

Brush and Floss

It’s essential to brush twice a day. When you brush your teeth, you’re helping to remove the bacteria that can become plaque. Plaque eats away at your enamel, leading to cavities and, potentially, gum disease.

Flossing is also essential. Do this twice a day to remove any food particles that your toothbrush may not have been able to reach.

Drink Water

You must be hydrated to produce the saliva your mouth needs to remove bacteria. The best way to do this is to drink water. Keep a water bottle with you if you take medications that cause dry mouth. Chewing sugar-free gum can also stimulate saliva.

Reduce Sugar Intake

The bacteria in your mouth love sugar. They use it to create the acids that wear away at tooth enamel. By reducing your sugar intake, you’re helping to prevent tooth decay. If you do have sugar, remember to brush your teeth right after.

Visit Your Dentist

A visit to your dentist can be stressful, but it’s vital. Often, the early stages of gum disease and other oral health issues don’t have noticeable symptoms, so having a professional check your oral health can mean catching problems before they worsen.

If you struggle with dental anxiety or your mental health concerns make it difficult to ask for help, many dental clinics can work with you to accommodate your needs.

Helping You Stay Healthy

Your mental health can have a lasting impact on your entire body, including your oral health. It’s common for people who struggle with their mental health to also experience issues keeping up with their dental hygiene. However, establishing healthy routines can prevent oral health issues even when you’re not feeling your best.

At Empire Dental Care, we offer gentle care to ensure patients always feel comfortable and safe. Contact us today by calling 585-671-1650 to schedule an appointment.







Dr. Cohen has been practicing dentistry in private and public settings for over 10 years, completing her DMD degree in 2010 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Committed to providing dental care of the highest level, Dr. Cohen relocated to Rochester in 2016 to pursue advanced dental trainings at the Dental Urgent Care Fellowship at The University of Rochester, Eastman Institute for Oral Health, graduating in 2017, and the AEGD Residency program in 2019. She recently completed an additional advanced General Practice Residency program at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany NY. This summer she moved back to Rochester with her husband Kevin, a native Rochesterian, to be closer to family. Throughout her career and personal life, Dr. Cohen has shown her genuine compassion and care to people and patients from all walks of life. She volunteered in underserved areas, practiced in clinics for patients with complex special needs, and treated medically compromised patients among others. She also taught and mentored other dentists and students helping them achieve their professional and personal goals. Most of all, Dr. Cohen’s warm personality and love of people create a welcoming, comfortable feeling for both patients and staff.