Dental Hygiene and Mental Health

The Connection between Recent Poor Dental Hygiene and our Collective Mental Health in 2020

Austin, TX – Covid-19 has both created and revealed a multiple of problems in American Society. It has highlighted the flaws of our healthcare system, called into question whether all workplaces should be attended via a physical space and has caused severe loss life in the American public. It has literally touched almost every aspect of our reality and it is something that we cannot escape from currently. The field of dentistry is no different.

Dentists are taking note that there is an increased number of patients that are suffering from cavities, gum disease, and other forms of poor oral health. Some of them have speculated that constantly wearing masks is contributing to the problem. While I do believe that it could be one of the factors, there is a much larger connection that is often missed when discussing any type of hygiene, let alone dental hygiene. Mental health.

Why Dentists Should Talk About Mental Health

Talking about mental health is often considered a touchy subject if not completely taboo. It certainly does not make its way in casual conversation at dental office, and it is all too often ignored in society thanks to the stigma that it often carries. But, just like most taboo subject matter, it needs to be addressed, not repressed. Why? Because addressing a problem is the first step in actually fixing things.

So, what does mental health have to do with dental hygiene? While the two things sound unrelated, this is farther from the truth than most people realize. Mental illness, whether temporary, or permanent, severe or mild all seeps into every part of our lives. What do I mean by this exactly?

On Mental Health and Poor Hygiene

Well, when you live most of your life anxious or depressed you are constantly swallowed by those feelings. At best they are an annoyance that is easy to manage with the right kind of distraction or task switching. At worst, they can be so overwhelming that it feels like a herculean task to get out of the bed every morning. While a normal dose of fear in stressful situations can be a good motivator for action, a constant input of it through excess external or internal stressors does the exact opposite of motivating. Instead it makes everyday tasks all that more harder to complete.

Personal hygiene, or any sort of self care is usually the first thing to go in response to any sort of mental illness. If you are constantly depressed, what is the point of taking care of yourself? What is the point in self preservation if you are too anxious to think? If you are too busy trying to battle the constant guilt and shame that comes with living like a broken person, why should it matter if you brushed your teeth that day? It all either seems trivial compared to what you are dealing with, or you just stop concentrating altogether on taking care of yourself.

A Theory: COVID-19 Creates or Exacerbates Depression and Anxiety Which Causes Poor Dental Hygiene

And there are a lot of things that can lead to depression and anxiety in the first place. Some of it comes from an imbalance of brain chemistry or substance abuse, if it isn’t attached to another mental illness or a genetic factor. But major changes and events are often huge contributing factors to mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. Moving, losing a job, losing a home, or the loss of a loved one are all things that can kick start or make the effects of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, that much worse.

And what is Covid-19 other than one giant stressor? Because of this disease that we have no cure for, we have been robbed of our routines, our safety nets, our finances, and our ability to cope. Life is not normal for America right now. When you combine that with the families of almost 200,000 people that are in mourning for the loss of a loved one to this disease and the 6.5 Million people who contracted these cases, it’s no wonder that there are signs of poor dental hygiene all over the US.

It is in the best interest of the dental communities in both Austin, Texas, and the rest of the United States to look at the mental health aspect when it comes to dental hygiene overall. Especially when there is a mass tragedy involved. After all, who would want to think about brushing their teeth while they are in quarantine or after their family member just died? To ignore this could possibly mean a missed opportunity for a better understanding of dental health.

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