Oral Health Care & Psychology Related?

woman in dentist chair covering her mouth in fear

New evidence points to a cause-and-effect relationship between oral health care and mental well-being. People are sensitive to their oral health issues, even if it’s just crooked or yellowing teeth. In this way, oral health can affect one’s psychological well-being and vice versa; psychological problems are often focused on one’s well-being, which can include oral health. Did your brain just get muddled?  

Let’s explore this idea further.

The days are long gone when dental practitioners were viewed as mad, sadistic people who enjoy inflicting pain on their patients. Perhaps ‘ondontophobia’ — a very real psychological condition depicting an irrational and overwhelming fear of dentistry — has been exacerbated by portrayals of crazy dentists in movies and television (think Steve Martin in Little Shop of Horrors).

Is the connection between oral health care and psychology based purely on fear prior to a dental visit, or is there more to it?  Let’s explore the chain reaction that occurs, starting with fear.

Dental Fear

Is this what you imagine prior to dental appointments?

From a dentist’s perspective, there is no need for the gut-wrenching anxiety some people still experience prior to a standard dental cleaning.  Today, oral care providers have “patient friendly environments, anesthetics to reduce pain, fear and anxiety greatly reducing or eliminating levels of discomfort physically and psychologically.”

But still, 75% of adults experience some level of ‘dental fear’ while between 5-10% have this ‘ontontophobia’ described above. One of the main causes of long-lasting dental fear begins with an embellished story told by another. When these dental ‘horror’ stories are told in front of small children, a psychological seed is planted and from then on it’s very likely that child will experience fearful emotions when anticipating a dental appointment.

Physical Affect of Stress

Do you envision yourself as Bill Murray when at the dentist’s?

 As the child gets older, the feelings of loss of control and helplessness continue into adulthood.  These primitive emotions that stem from childhood are the most difficult kind to overcome.  When the stress and anxiety from going to the dentist turns into chronic stress, the pH balance in the mouth can be disrupted.  The result is dry mouth and acidic saliva which “causes tooth decay and toothaches.”

Anti-Depressive Medication

Dry mouth not only harbors bacteria growth, but it can be unsightly.

At this point, if one decides to go on anti-stress or anxiety medication, one of the side effects of this type of medicine can further aggravate the dry mouth which affects levels of bacterial growth in the mouth.

Social Outcome?

If someone waves this in your direction — not a good sign.

When someone is depressed, they’re less likely to care about visiting their dentist which can lead to all sorts of problems like tooth decay and loss.  This will only lead to an unattractive and unhealthy smile which can worsen self-esteem and increase depression further.

But how important is it in this day and age to have nice, straight clean teeth? Well, in a recent USA Today poll, both women and men reported the biggest turnoff on a first date is bad teeth.  I’d say pretty important.  You can see now the vicious cycle created by neglecting visits to the dentist!

What do you think, based on these new findings:  Is a healthy smile indicative of good mental health?

Dr. Sam Sadati is the owner and practitioner of The Sadati Center of Aesthetic Dentistry in West Palm Beach and a leader in the world of cosmetic dentistry and smile design. He is the only accredited cosmetic dentist in all of South Florida and is one of only forty dentists in the world to receive an Accredited Fellow honor from the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD).  Apart from creating beautiful smiles, Dr. Sadati enjoys photography, travel, and the opportunity to tell a good joke.  If you have a question or comment, dental-related or otherwise, connect with us on Facebook or Twitter. We always reply to our fans and followers!