Surprising Links: Dental, Mental, and Emotional Health

Although they weren’t always correct in the details, doctors and scientists have postulated for centuries over the impact that oral health has on the body. Even Aristotle and Hippocrates, both notable for their knowledge in medicine, wrote considerably about the importance of teeth and correcting dental issues. More recently, numerous studies have highlighted a variety of links between poor dental health and certain systemic conditions. Besides an increased risk of heart disease and other issues associated with inflammation, some of the more surprising oral connections also involve aspects of mental and emotional health.

The Prevalence of Poor Dental Health

Despite the strides professional and preventive dental care have taken, poor oral health remains one of the most significant and wide-spread health concerns today, affecting billions of people across the globe. Tooth decay, the most prevalent chronic disease among adults and children alike, affects over 90% of people in the United States alone. Gum disease, the leading cause of permanent tooth loss, is present in varying degrees in the mouths of over 70% of adults. According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS), approximately 69% of adults aged of 35-44 have lost at least one permanent tooth to tooth decay, gum disease, or to a traumatic dental injury.

Poor Dental Health and Mental Illness

Aches and pains are common symptoms of poor dental health. The discomfort can occur in your teeth, gums, jawbone, and the structures surrounding your mouth, depending on the nature and extent of your dental issues. The persistent presence of dental discomfort can affect your overall emotional wellbeing, and according to research conducted by UK scientists, poor oral health may be linked to increased severity of mental illness. Among the participants of the study, over half (about 53.9%) attributed a poor quality life with the effects of their poor dental health.

Chewing Ability and Cognitive Decline

Most patients realize that biting and chewing food is essential for your body to receive and process the nutrients necessary to operate properly. Your ability to bite and chew effectively, however, is dependent on how many healthy teeth (or replacement teeth) you have left in your smile. Besides preparing your food for digestion, chewing also helps stimulate the flow of blood to your jaw and brain. This stimulation, and how it diminishes when you lose teeth, may explain the results of a study conducted by researchers from the Karolinska Institute and Karlstad University. The study examined the brain functions of 557 people aged 77 and older, and compared the results with the participants’ chewing ability and extent of tooth loss. The results indicated that a diminished ability to chew hard foods, like apples, was directly related to the patients’ declining cognitive ability.

Tooth Loss and Depression

If you take a specific pride in your beautiful, healthy smile, then losing one or more teeth can be especially disheartening. Even if you never really took dentistry too seriously, you might reconsider its importance after seeing how your smile looks with gaps in it. When experts decided to test the connection between tooth loss and depression, they found that the emotional effects of missing teeth may extend far beyond pride. Using data collected during the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) Survey 2010, researchers discovered that a significant portion of participants who reported having lost teeth also reported higher instances of anxiety and depression. The study and its results were presented this year at the 3rd Annual Meeting & Exhibition of the American Association for Dental Research (AADR), held in conjunction with the 38th Annual Meeting of the Canadian Association for Dental Research.

About Your Lake Forest Dentist:

Aside from providing expert family, general, and restorative dentistry services to our community, Dr. James Fondriest also holds highly-respected academic appointments at the Pankey Institute in Key Biscayne, FL, and the Spear Institute in Scottsdale, AZ, and he is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Prosthodontics at the University of Florida Dental School. Dr. Fondriest combines his impressive array of experience with modern technology and caring, compassionate, and knowledgeable staff, and we proudly serve the Chicago metropolitan area including the North Shore and Northwest suburbs. To schedule your consultation, call our office today at (847) 234-0517.