If your thinking about oral health is mostly about how your teeth look, think again. Everyone wants an attractive smile but your smile needs to be a healthy one. Almost every day, we learn more about the connection between oral health problems and a growing list of serious systemic illnesses including diabetes and heart disease. The most recent addition to the list appears to be Alzheimer’s disease.
It also turns out that the reverse may also be true, so that common psychological disorders can have serious impacts on oral health. Elegant Dentistry in Marina del Rey is based in one of the most health-aware portions of the nation, and our West L.A. clientele tend to be on the leading edge of self-care, including their oral hygiene. Even so, we can all use reminders about the many reasons our thinking should go beyond cosmetic dentistry and toward the importance of prevention.
A key part of maintaining our long-term health is addressing relatively small issues before they become major. Hygiene is sometimes enough but not always; exams can catch minor issues well before any real trouble starts. Staying on top of problems like gingivitis (mild gum disease) is particularly important as many of the connections with serious illnesses relate to periodontics. More about that below.
Everything you eat and drink, as well as a lot of what you breathe, goes through the mouth so it makes sense that it plays a big role in our overall health. There is, however, another explanation that may be a big part of the oral/systemic connection: people who practice good oral hygiene may just be better about watching out for their own health in other ways. Still, few things in our complicated world have only one cause and it’s hard to overestimate the importance of the interrelationship between the mind and the body.
The Brain-Mouth Connection
Among the illnesses that have recently been connected to oral health issues are common mental illnesses, particularly depression and anxiety. Substance addiction is another illness that, depending on the substances, can either play a role in oral health problems or which can be completely devasting.
The connection is, at least on the surface, fairly simple. Clinically depressed people tend to be fatigued but also fatalistic and uninterested in hygiene. Moreover, when their lack of self-care results in painful toothaches, persistent bad breath (halitosis), or bleeding gums, they may first ignore the problems due to their overall feelings of helplessness. As problems get worse, patients have more reason than ever to feel sad and depressed, as well as in great pain. The kicker is that excess cortisol produced by the body during depression may also worsen gum or teeth problems if it continues indefinitely.
A close relative of depression, anxiety might worsen teeth due to cortisol, but it also may help motivate a patient to seek treatment – but only if the patient’s worries include their own health. Anxiety can also cut the other way, however, if the patient is not particularly focused on their health. People who are anxious about exaggerated dangers may sometimes tend to ignore more imminent threats – especially as it’s common for people to delay dental care for multiple reasons.
Most drugs of abuse can worsen both mental and oral health even as toothaches and other problems can make people want to self-medicate to temporarily lessen the discomfort. That can lead to a vicious cycle because alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis can all induce dry mouth, opening the door to a host of oral health problems. However, it can be much worse.
Depending on where you live, you may occasionally see otherwise ordinary people with missing teeth, perhaps accompanied by a drawn and gaunt facial appearance. This is what is commonly referred to as “meth mouth” Methamphetamine has a particularly corrosive impact on teeth. While it may induce intense sugar cravings, on top of dry mouth and other problems, what sets meth apart from other dangerous drugs is that it often contains cleaning products and industrial compounds, including battery acid. This may be why even relatively short bouts of meth abuse can lead to complex dental conditions that can make an otherwise healthy person a regular at their dentist’s office for years. In the case of people who remain addicted, severe periodontitis followed by multiple tooth loss can rapidly lead to what is known as facial collapse. Missing teeth severely reduce the flow of calcium to teeth, causing bone loss. If the problem is not addressed in time, and particularly if teeth are not replaced by dental implants, the impact on an individual’s appearance can be deeply upsetting.
It almost goes without saying that all of the conditions listed above may create great stress. Excessive stress, in turn, leads to the production of excess cortisol, which is connected to inflammation – and inflammation is connected to an increasing number of health problems. Moreover, problems like toothaches create stress which can lead to mental health problems — creating even more stress. It’s a classic vicious circle and one more reason you should contact healthcare professionals for psychological issues just as you would for physical health problems. Please don’t let concerns about what others might think, or what you might think of yourself, stop you from getting the care you may desperately need.
Keep Track of Your Oral Health with West Los Angeles’s Best Dental Office
Wherever you live, please find an outstanding regular dentist to help you prevent issues. If you happen to live in the West Los Angeles area, Elegant Dentistry in Marina del Rey is the award-winning office for the area’s finest general dentistry. People keep voting for us in local polls because they know us and trust us for healthy and happy smiles.
Elegant Dentistry is here to become one of the strongest parts of your health regimen. Get in touch with us through the phone number or email information below or by using the form on our contact page.