By Terilyn Paulgaard on Jan 24, 2019 5:03:00 PM
Strange how in this era of holistic healing, concerns about affordable medical care and a new understanding of mental health, few are aware of how oral health fits in to the picture. While the connection between medical health and dental care is slowly getting traction, the general public doesn’t seem to understand the links between dental and mental health.
To quote a paper from The United States National Library of Medicine and The National Institute of Health:
“For mental health clinicians, consideration of oral health should be part of a comprehensive assessment of people with severe mental illness.”
To truly understand the full impact of mental issues on general health, dental care needs to be examined.
THE DENTIST AS GATEKEEPER.
Dentists are often the first health care providers to see signs of general health problems. Poor oral health can be symptomatic of diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. The condition of a patient’s mouth can also suggest mental health problems. A patient with bulimia will often have extreme enamel erosion due to the acid from frequent vomiting. A dentist who sees this sign of bulimia has a reason to start a conversation with the patient and may be the first practitioner to address this issue.
Bruxism--teeth grinding--is another mental health indicator that a dentist can spot before anyone else. While the damage to the patients’ teeth is an issue in and of itself, grinding can be a sign of anxiety, sleep disorders and stress. A dental professional can help with the grinding, but the root issue goes beyond the teeth.
A dentist also has a front seat to potential problems that a patient can suffer. Bacteria from periodontitis have been connected to mental decline and even Alzheimer’s Disease. The research is ongoing, but results indicate that gum disease is a relevant factor in cognitive problems, most significantly in older populations.
Not only can oral health effect the mind—as we will explore later on--mental health can affect oral health. The most obvious example of this is dentophobia—fear of dentists. This phobia can have its roots in a variety of medical situations—for example, a bad experience at a hospital—and usually results in people avoiding dental treatment. Even when they can afford dental financing, have dental insurance or dental coverage, people with dentophobia will aggressively avoid getting regular dental care as well as needed treatment. These people will bear physical pain, the inability to chew food and the social stigma of poor teeth before sitting in a dentist chair.
DENTOPHOBIA IS ONLY THE START.
- People who have been diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder are susceptible to over-brushing to the point of damaging the gums and causing lacerations.
- Stomatisis—a medical term to describe inflamed or irritated mouths—can be the result of nervous biting or the use of certain prescription drugs, like lithium.
- Addiction and its treatment add a whole new cluster of problems. Heavy nicotine dependence results in stains and can cause bacteria growth by stunting the production of saliva. Smoking also contributes to enamel erosion and periodontal disease, to name just a few of the problems. Methadone, used to treat narcotic addiction, is dispensed in a heavy syrup that needs to be brushed away to prevent decay, a step most addicts don’t consider. Cocaine is another drug that acts like sugar on teeth; long-term use can result in cavities.
- Another issue that can influence oral health is depression. Depression leaves people without energy and self-esteem, robbing them of the will to take care of their hygiene, diet, physical wellbeing and, of course, their teeth. The drugs used to combat this problem can also cause oral conditions that damage the teeth and gums.
- People suffering from severe mental health conditions (for example, schizophrenia, dementia and depression) are less likely to either afford or actively seek out dental treatment. Unless under the direct care of others, these people are unlikely to qualify for dental financing or payment plans.
MENTAL HEALTH CAN INFLUENCE ORAL HEALTH—AND ORAL HEALTH CAN INFLUENCE MENTAL HEALTH.
The link between mental and dental health goes both ways. Having irregular, missing or decayed teeth can lead to self-esteem issues and socio-economic problems. As we explored in our previous blog, people who are self-conscious of their oral health can withdraw from social situations. Poor dental health can influence their performance at job interviews, their behavior on dates and even in interactions with friends. Unemployment and lack of personal relationships easily leads to depression. Taking care of your emotional health helps with your dental health and having a healthy smile can help with emotional issues. It all works together—in a perfect world.
HOW TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR WHOLE BEING…
…begins with regular professional care and dealing with any problems as they arise. One of the major issues with mental health is the social stigma attached to conditions affecting the mind and emotions. Organizations are fighting negative attitudes towards mental illness, funding education programs and media campaigns to climatize the general public for a need to understand and treat mental health conditions to benefit both sufferers and people in general.
There is no such stigma attached to dentistry. So why is dental health—such an influential aspect of a whole, fulfilling life—as neglected as it is in our modern, socially aware culture?
There’s a simple answer. To quote the editor in chief of The Internet Journal of Dental Science:
“Oral health contributes to general health, self-esteem and quality of life and although oral health may have a low priority in the context of mental illness, the impact of mental illness and its treatment on oral health must be addressed. There is a complex interrelationship between socio-economic factors, illness, its treatment and oral health. Cost and fear are the most commonly cited barriers to dental care.”
WHAT ABOUT THAT COST?
Before dental professionals can address the fear factor in their dental patients, they need to address the more practical barrier: the cost. By offering dental financing for patients as well as flexible payment options and dental payment plans, you provide more than skilled, professional dental service. As a partner with Compassionate Finance, you give people the chance to afford the dental care that they need through affordable financing for dental work.
Offering a variety of financing options for dental patients is important because many people with a history of serious mental health conditions are unlikely to have a credit history that would make them eligible for dental financing. For a person trying to build a life while growing beyond emotional problems, financial limitations can make recovery difficult. This is over and above the health repercussions of avoiding necessary dental care.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Consider advertising Compassionate Finance’s easy approval process. Not only does affordable dental financing and flexible payment plans let patients get necessary treatment, it can help boost a patient’s self-esteem. As a health care professional, you get the satisfaction and revenue from helping a patient, but you also show them that mental health conditions need not be a road block to a rewarding life. With your skill and Compassionate Finance, we can make lives better one smile at a time.
Talk to us today about what Compassionate Finance can do for you and your patients. CALL 866.964.4727