The Mind-Mouth Link

May 1 • 3 minute read

The mind-mouth link

Few things are more important than your patients’ mental wellbeing, but chances are very few of them have stopped to consider the link between their oral health and their mental health.

For Mental Health Month this May, understand the relationship between your patients' mental health and their oral health and use resources from Delta Dental to help them make the important mind-mouth connection.

The link between oral health and mental health

Mental health and oral health are interconnected, and each one has a significant impact on the other. Some of the ways mental health and oral health are connected include:

  • Stress. “The effects of stress on the mouth are extremely detrimental,” says Dr. Jessica Buehler, Delta Dental’s Director of Dental Affairs. “Stress is very tightly linked to oral health because so many people have a tooth clenching response to stress.” High levels of stress and anxiety often lead to oral health issues including teeth grinding, jaw clenching, temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ) and canker sores.
  • Depression. Depression often results in a loss of motivation for maintaining oral hygiene habits. Depressed patients can neglect to brush or floss regularly, leading to cavities, gum disease and other oral health problems.
  • Medications and substance abuse. The medications used to treat mental health issues like depression and anxiety lead to dry mouth, which in turn leads to oral health problems. Substance abuse can likewise have a significant impact on oral health. Individuals who struggle with addiction often neglect their dental health, which results in oral health problems.
  • Eating disorders. Bulimia and anorexia often end up damaging the teeth and gums. Frequent vomiting leads to tooth enamel erosion and other oral health problems, and the lack of good nutrition presents an obstacle to maintaining oral health.

Signs of mental health issues you may notice during a dental visit

Most dentists are not trained mental health professionals, but they nonetheless play an important role in identifying signs and symptoms of mental issues. Some signs and symptoms to look out for during an exam include:

  • Behavior. There can be obvious signs, such as crying, clear distress or difficulty speaking, but you should also be alert to less overt symptoms of mental health issues, such as changes in behavior and personality, including increased agitation, withdrawal or irritability.
  • Appearance. Sudden weight gain or weight loss, neglecting personal or dental hygiene or outward signs of self-harm can all be indicators of mental health issues.
  • Dental health. Changes in oral health, such as increased tooth decay, gum disease, cracked teeth or TMJ, can be an indication of stress, anxiety, depression or other mental health issues.

Speaking with patients about mental health

Discussing mental health can be a delicate topic, so it’s important to approach the subject with sensitivity. Here are some tips for approaching the subject while reducing stigma and providing support:

  • Create a comfortable environment. Make sure your office is warm and welcoming. It should be a space where patients feel free to open up about any issues they’re facing. Speak to patients in a friendly way that lets them know you’re there to support them.
  • Ask open-ended questions. During a visit, ask open-ended, non-judgmental questions about your patients’ state of mind: “How are you feeling today?” or “What’s been happening in your world?” These types of questions help initiate a conversation and create an opportunity for the patient to open up about mental health issues which may be affecting their oral health.
  • Be empathetic. Being a good, non-judgmental listener is key. Show empathy by letting the patient know that you’re there to support them and to care for their overall wellbeing.
  • Share resources. Delta Dental has resources for you to make available to patients who may need support and information.

Resources to promote mental health and oral health this May

Maintaining oral health is crucial for overall well-being, and conversely, managing mental health issues can help prevent oral health problems. Here are some resources for your patients that can help answer your patients’ concerns, reminding them of the important link between the state of their mouth and the state of their mind. Delta Dental’s Wellness library has easy-to-understand articles to help make the important connection between oral health and overall wellbeing.

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