Mental Health and Dental Health Go Together

Your teeth and your brain might not seem like they have much in common, but researchers have consistently found a relationship between mental health and oral health.

For example, a systematic review of studies published in 2015 showed that people with severe mental illnesses tended to have more decayed, filled and missing teeth. Overall, they were 2.8 times more likely to have lost all their teeth.

Several possible explanations have been put forward to the link between mental and oral health. People with mental health problems may have less access to dental treatment and they may have lifestyle differences that affect their dental health.

One possibly underexplored reason, though, is that people with mental illnesses also tend to have a greater fear of dental treatment. A 2013 study of 212 people with mental health disorders found that about 30 percent of them had severe fear of dental treatment.

This was especially true of those with anxiety disorders, who had a sevenfold higher risk for severe fear of dental treatment, and those with depression, who had an almost fivefold higher risk. The people in the PTSD group were at the highest risk of all, being almost ten times as likely as people without mental health disorders to have severe dental treatment fear.

The study also found that more than half of the people with severe fear of dental treatment had missed or canceled a dentist appointment because of their fear.

To make matters worse, it turns out that when people with mental health disorders do seek dental treatment, they can face stigma as a result of their conditions. A study published this month found that people with mental illness perceived being stigmatized when they were shut out of the decision-making process or treated as “different” or “unworthy.” On the other hand, they reported feeling empowered when they received strong communication and empathy from their dental care providers.

While there are likely a range of reasons people with mental health problems also tend to have oral health problems, these findings point to a couple things that can be done to help people with mental health conditions access dental health services. Addressing these people’s fears of dental treatment and spreading mental health awareness among dentists could both make a difference in improving oral health among people with mental illnesses.

Image: Flickr/Ludosphère


  1. Brooke on May 25, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    Thankyou so much for shedding light on this subject! This totaly fits me!… =\ but atleast it feels reassuring /helpfull to know I’m not just imagining things, all by myself. =] ..yes I almost always end up canceling and rescheduling my Dentist appointments.. =P For me I feel the Dentist (and the assistant person) are going to be judging me when they look at whatever the condition is of my poor(otherwise pretty) teeth.. =( I said to the Dentist, the first time I finally got in there after a few years,, I said, “I feel like you can see my secret sins..” they were kinda quiet /taken aback when I said that, and so was I, as it felt pretty profound. I DO want to be better at my personal oral care♡ I have otherwise very pretty teeth, and I AM gratefull for them.. I just have these issues.. =\ I’m scared I guess. it feels like it’s going to be judgemental for some reason, even if they really don’t care. (They probly see way worse, every day) ~I think that’s one of the things I try to remind myself. =P

    • Neil Petersen on May 29, 2017 at 4:12 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with this, Brooke! Yes, isn’t that the way our irrational fears always are — even if we know they’re illogical (i.e., you know that the dentist sees worse every day and doesn’t really care), we can’t help but listen to those fears anyway. This is where therapy can be especially helpful. Best of luck!

  2. Anna on October 16, 2018 at 6:23 am

    Worth mentioning it can go the other way too.. in my case losing a front tooth in an accident has lead to a need for dental care, but my poor mental health has kept me underemployed and struggling to afford dental treatments. The embarrassment I have faced because of this dental problem has caused significant extra distress, lack of confidence, worry about job opportunities etc… leading to worsening mental health… it can be quite a vicious cycle

    • Neil Petersen on October 17, 2018 at 2:30 pm

      That’s a good point, Anna, thanks for highlighting it. And I’m sorry to hear about the situation with your tooth — best of luck!