Most people know that having good dental hygiene is important to avoid problems with cavities or gingivitis (gum disease). Less familiar is the negative impact on overall health caused by problems with oral health. You may not realize it, but there are many dental health effects on physical and mental health.
Physical Health Problems Related to Oral Health
The Mayo Clinic notes that some problems with overall physical health relate to conditions of oral health. The reverse is also possible, as certain physical diseases, negatively impact oral health.
The mouth is normally full of bacteria. Proper oral hygiene of daily brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash, is important. Otherwise, bacteria creates conditions that make it possible for cavities to develop and lead to gum disease. Once gum disease becomes serious, it changes from the milder form of gingivitis to periodontitis. Periodontitis is a serious gum infection, which not only affects oral health, but also affects other parts of the body.
The Mayo Clinic reports the following connections between overall physical health and oral health:
- Endocarditis – This is a heart infection. It is caused when bacteria from poor oral health gets into the bloodstream, and then spreads to places in the heart that are damaged.
- Cardiovascular – Infections in the mouth cause inflammation that may cause clogged arteries, diseases of the heart, or stroke.
- Premature Birth – Periodontitis occasionally causes problems with pregnancy that leads to premature births and lower than normal weights at birth.
- Diabetes – This disease lowers the body’s immune response allowing more infections to occur including gum disease.
- HIV/AIDS – Because this disease also lowers the immune function, oral diseases such as thrush are common with patients who suffer from AIDS.
- Osteoporosis – In this disease, bones become brittle and weak. Research linked this disease to bone loss and tooth loss caused by periodontitis.
- Alzheimer’s – Patients who lose teeth as young adults, under the age of thirty-five, have a higher risk factor of getting Alzheimer’s later in life.
- Sjogren’s syndrome – This is another disorder caused by lower immunological function due to the oral disease.
The Mayo Clinic’s advice only relates to physical health, yet oral health also affects mental health.
Mental Health Problems Related to Oral Health
Wellness Everyday notes the importance of self-esteem. The way a person values him or herself affects the body, mind, and how they interact with other people. How a person feels about themselves changes the decisions they make and how they react to new circumstances, especially when meeting new people. Having good self-esteem is one of the foundations of good health.
The advantages of having positive self-esteem include:
- Having a balanced mood.
- Increased positive energy with more enthusiasm for life.
- Being more open to communication.
- Having better relationships with others.
- Feeling more power to take on challenges.
- Less likely to blame others for problems.
- More ability to withstand criticism.
- Better able to handle stress.
- Making healthier choices.
The Link Between Your Smile and Self-Esteem
Everyday, most people look at themselves in the mirror when getting ready for work or school. It is a natural feeling to want to look our best.
Broken or missing teeth, and other problems with oral health that cause shyness and feelings of inferiority have a direct negative impact on mental health, because they lower self-esteem. For children, besides looking bad, misaligned or missing teeth may cause eating or speech difficulties, thereby negatively affecting self-esteem. With teenagers, personal appearance is extremely impactful on self-esteem.
Moreover, research from the School of Dentistry at the Medical College of Georgia concluded that cosmetic dentistry creates many opportunities to improve oral functions, smile, and therefore self-esteem for adults who are older as well. They recommend dental professionals maintain the oral health of patients throughout their lives including when they are elderly.
A study done at the Department of Restorative Dentistry, University of Sheffield School of Clinical Dentistry in the UK, looked at the effect on self-esteem for a group of dental patients that had porcelain laminate veneers installed to improve their smiles. The control group had no such dental work done. The study concluded that the dental patients with restorative cosmetic dental veneers had increased self-esteem with positive benefits.
A study performed at the School of Business Administration, California State University made the direct link between attractiveness and better self-esteem. A positive change in physical attractiveness, for example by having cosmetic dental procedures done, increases self-esteem. This causes others to react more positively to that individual, reinforcing the positive outcome.
A study was undertaken by the Dental Corps. of the US Air Force, at Howard Base in Panama. This study is fascinating because it was able to determine a standard of smiles for females and a different one for males that research participants considered attractive. The most appreciated female smile had the appearance of natural teeth, with a slightly colored shade, and the lip line showing much of the teeth that radiate a symmetric smile. For men, the most attractive smile had a slightly colored shade, the lip line showing a moderate amount of the teeth, and the teeth aligned symmetrically.
All of the research shows how important oral health is to physical health as well as how important a nice smile is to self-esteem and its major positive influence on mental health. The conclusion from all the research is that an investment in good oral health and getting a great smile from cosmetic dental procedures provides a benefit for overall physical and mental health.