The effect of dental health and appearance, on mental health

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We all dream of that perfect smile and often insecurities about your smile can have a profound impact on your mental health and wellbeing. In our world of high exposure to social media we often see celebrities and influencers dazzling us with their perfect straight white smiles and this often leads to us becoming very critical of our own appearance.

 

We all have our own insecurities, however, poor body image and low self-esteem are proven risk factors for mental health problems (1). Dissatisfaction with our dental appearance can lead to low self-esteem which can cause us to hide away and avoid situations which we might find uncomfortable or traumatic and long term can lead to problems such as depression and anxiety. (2)

 

Mental health conditions are also closely associated with behaviours such as smoking and alcohol consumption which in turn negatively impacts on our oral health. In the UK people who suffer from depression are twice as likely to smoke as those without depression. The nicotine in cigarette smoke triggers the release of dopamine, which is responsible for triggering positive feelings and therefore temporarily increases mood. However, long term it causes a reduction in the brain’s own mechanism for producing dopamine and therefore will exacerbate the symptoms of depression.  People with depression and anxiety also struggle with more severe withdrawal symptoms making it harder for them to quit. (3)

 

The effects of smoking on oral health are widely documented. Smoking not only causes unsightly staining on the teeth but is also one of the biggest risk factors for gum disease which is the leading cause of tooth loss. (4)

In addition to this, the way we feel about our appearance impacts on our feelings of self-worth and these negative feelings can often manifest as self-neglect (5). As dental professionals we often see people who are unhappy with their dental appearance and do not maintain an adequate oral hygiene routine as they see their teeth as not worth caring for. This is turn creates a negative spiral as poor oral hygiene leads to dental disease such as tooth decay and periodontitis (gum disease) which over time negatively affects the appearance of your teeth.

In addition to these factors, the stress hormone (cortisol) has been linked to reduced salivary rates leading to dry mouth (xerostomia) (6). Saliva is our bodies natural defence against decay as it neutralises the acidity in our mouths which cause dental decay and acid erosion (7).

 

Research has shown that our physical, oral and mental health are very closely interlinked and that periodontal (gum) disease in particular has also been recognised as a risk factor for depression and anxiety. Periodontitis is chronic inflammation of the gum tissue and over time chronic systemic infection has been shown to have an effect on the neural system and behaviours meaning the effects are psychological as well as psychosocial (poor oral hygiene).  (8)

One study found that 1 in 3 adults stated that having attractive teeth would help them overcome embarrassment about their appearance with 46% saying they believed that attractive teeth would improve their overall appearance. The survey found that 19 million people believed that their self-esteem would be boosted by having dental work to improve the appearance of their smile. (9)

 

References:

(1) https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/body-image-report/exec-summary

(2) https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/raising-low-self-esteem/

(3) https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/smoking-and-mental-health

(4) https://www.dentalhealth.org/smoking-and-oral-health

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5449896/#:~:text=Dis%2Dsatisfaction%20with%20dental%20appearance,thus%2C%20affecting%20their%20self%20esteem.

(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5768958/

(7) https://www.brownbarandentistry.com/blog-the-dangers-of-dry-mouth.html#:~:text=Tooth%20decay%3A%20Dry%20mouth%20allows,protective%20layer%20of%20the%20teeth.

(8) https://dentistry.co.uk/2019/05/08/inflammation-periodontitis-depression/amp/

(9) https://www.nature.com/articles/bdj.2007.977

 

If you have concern about your smile or oral health, please contact us for further advice:

Contact – Kingswood Parks Dental (kingswoodparksclinics.co.uk)

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