Maintaining good oral health is crucial for overall health and well-being. Oral diseases can result in painful conditions and infections, which can lead to difficulties with eating, speaking, and learning.
Moreover, poor oral health can impact social interactions and employment opportunities. The three most significant oral conditions that can significantly affect one’s quality of life are cavities, severe gum disease, and severe tooth loss.
Gum disease is more likely to occur in individuals who use tobacco or have diabetes, as both of these factors increase the risk of developing this condition.
Now a new study led by Alex Kalaigian of the University of California, San Francisco School of Dentistry found that mental health problems could also increase the odds of bleeding gums, bone loss around teeth, and other gum diseases.
This study examined the relationship between mental health and oral health, both cross-sectionally and longitudinally was presented at the AADOCR/CADR Annual Meeting & Exhibition held between March 15-18, 2023, at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.
The study utilized self-reported data from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) Study to investigate the association between mental health and oral health. Scientists used the Global Appraisal Individual Needs-Short Screener (GAIN-SS) to assess mental health symptoms across three disorder categories and evaluated six oral health conditions, including self-rated oral health, bleeding gums, loose teeth, tooth loss, gum disease, and bone loss.
A cross-sectional analysis within PATH Wave 4 (2016-2018, N=30,753) compared the prevalence of the six oral health outcomes based on the severity of mental health problems. Additionally, oral health outcomes in PATH Wave 5 (2018-2019) were assessed based on mental health problems reported in Wave 4 (N=26,177).
Logistic regression models, weighted to account for survey sampling, were used to control for confounding variables (such as age, sex, tobacco use, etc.) and imputation methods were utilized to address missing data.
In the cross-sectional analysis, all six negative oral health outcomes showed a statistically significant increase in prevalence with increasing severity of mental health problems. For instance, individuals with high levels of internalizing problems had 1.79 times higher adjusted odds (95%CI 1.30-2.46) of bone loss around teeth compared to those with none/low categories.
Longitudinally, the associations with externalizing and substance use problems mostly disappeared, but several associations with internalizing problems persisted. For example, individuals with high levels of internalizing problems had 1.40 times higher adjusted odds (95%CI 1.22-1.62) of bleeding gums compared to those with none/low categories.
The findings of the study suggest that individuals with mental health conditions may be at a higher risk of experiencing oral health issues. Specifically, symptoms of internalizing problems were found to be a possible risk factor for future adverse oral health, even after controlling for externalizing and substance use problems.
These results have implications for healthcare providers in both medical and dental fields when it comes to diagnosing and treating individuals with mental illness.
It is important for providers to be aware of the potential link between mental health and oral health and to take steps to address and prevent oral health issues in this population.
Image Credit: Getty
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