The 9-15th May is UK ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ which is an opportunity for us to shine a light on how effective dental caries prevention can be beneficial for our mental well-being as well as our oral health. It is widely understood that when our physical health declines, this can have the potential to impact our quality of life and mental well-being. Our oral health should be seen no differently to any other organ in the body. It has a vital role to play in our everyday lives, both practically and cosmetically.
The impact that dental cavities and tooth decay can have on our mental health is now much more visible in conversations and policy around oral health. The FDI chose mental well-being as the theme of this year’s World Oral Health Day, which brought international attention to the important role our oral health can play in boosting our mental health, happiness and self-esteem. The ACFF Making Cavities History Taskforce’s 2021 ‘A Global Consensus for Achieving a Dental Cavity-Free Future’ also noted the social impacts that untreated dental caries can have for individuals in order to highlight the wider benefits that caries prevention can have across society. An increasing number of articles are also being published in academic journals which addresses the relationship between oral and mental health.
What might happen to our mental well-being if our oral health declines?
- Individuals might experience ‘low moods’ from the oral pain and discomfort that they are experiencing as well as the implications this has for eating and enjoying food.
- Poor self-esteem and low confidence may develop as a result of the cosmetic and visible characteristics that cavities can have on an individual’s smile and appearance.
- Those suffering with prolonged or severe dental caries disease may become increasingly lonely if they miss social situations such as school or work to hide their condition or seek treatment.
- Disruptions to sleep and increased levels of anxiety might occur as the individual may become concerned with how they will cope long-term if their condition progresses or remains untreated.
The relationship between our oral and mental health also works the other way around. Those suffering with poor mental health are in some cases less likely to practice good oral hygiene. This could be from a lack of motivation due to low moods, or an individual’s focus being redirected onto other thoughts and tasks during periods of high anxiety.
The interplay between our oral and mental health can form a cycle where poor oral hygiene leads to poor oral health, which in turn can negatively impact our mental well-being. By ‘Making Cavities History’ we can help to break this cycle.
Dental caries is a preventable disease, and therefore we can prevent the negative impacts that the progression of caries lesions can have on our wider health and mental well-being. Effective and meaningful collaboration that addresses caries through preventative measures has the potential to also improve the mental health outcomes of those most at risk to developing severe caries disease. This has wider benefits for society in helping to reduce the growing mental health crisis and associated economic burden on healthcare systems.