Only 51% of Australian adults brush their teeth twice a day as recommended and, consequently, tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in Australia.
The country’s Oral Health Tracker report has established significant links between oral health and general well-being with poor dental health found to be linked to many other diseases including diabetes, dementia and mental illness. Already, the co-occurrence of one or more diseases in patients with mental health disorders is common and a collaborative approach to addressing comorbidity is valued in ensuring effective and consistent treatment. In the same way, early intervention with dental treatment can pick up signs of serious disease such as mouth cancer and treatment can improve social well being and quality of life.
The link between poor dental hygiene and mental health can be a vicious cycle with persistent pain and inflammation in the mouth leading to further anxiety, depression and poor self-esteem. Twice daily brushing with fluoride toothpaste combined with reduced sugar intake is the best way to a healthy mouth and enables people to eat, speak and socialise without pain, discomfort or embarrassment. However, the poor diet and irregular routines of those people experiencing severe depression or substance abuse can result in them missing the warning signs of cavities forming and so lead to developing further illness and infection.
Early signs of illness
Dental diseases can lead to those with severe mental illness being almost 3 times more likely to lose all their teeth. Some of the most common mental illnesses can have a negative impact on a person’s oral health with depression or affective disorders causing general neglect, damaged gums through over-vigorous brushing or attrition of the teeth caused by excessive grinding. The early signs of eating disorders are often first spotted by dentists as damage is caused to the tooth enamel through purging. In these cases, regular cleaning is important to maintain the uncompromised teeth and gums and fluoride treatments can help with the remineralisation of the tooth enamel.
Early treatment is vital to prevent severe damage and tooth loss but the prospect of dental treatment is worrying for many people and for those experiencing severe depression or psychosis, a visit to the dentist can induce anxiety and phobia. Offering accessible and affordable dental care can help, leading to early intervention and referral, often using non-dental personnel. In Australia, dental therapists can provide basic treatments and two-thirds of New Zealanders would be happy for dental therapists to take on more responsibilities.
Regular dental checks and a good oral hygiene routine is vital to well being and good mental health. Early treatment to maintain a bright, clean smile can improve confidence and social interactions. Moreover, a healthy, pain-free mouth leads to a better state of mind as well as lowering the risk of other diseases.
This article was kindly written and supplied by Chrissy Jones.
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