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Mental health can weigh heavily on the mouth, as well as the mind


  Posted by: The Probe      2nd August 2019

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, looks at mental health within dentistry.

There has never been a one-size fits all approach to getting people to look after their mouths. Attitudes to oral health across the nation are far more complex than we sometimes realise and can be altered at any time by any given number of circumstances.

In modern dentistry, there are times when simply reminding patients of the importance of brushing their teeth each day simply isn’t enough. For many, there are deeper underlying reasons for poor oral health than laziness or lack of understanding.

Poor brushing technique, forgetting to clean interdentally, or a diet littered with unhealthy foods, can all lead to an unhealthy mouth. No matter what treatment is provided, if the root cause is not discovered or tackled, oral diseases are almost always likely to return.

Mental health problems are one of the main causes of the overall disease burden worldwide and it is estimated that one in every six people have experienced a common mental health problem in the last week alone.

Furthermore, the prevalence of mental illness is on the rise. We cannot, nor should not, ignore it. The mental health of our patients should receive our utmost attention. Without action, mental illness will continue to hamper the oral wellbeing of more patients that walk into our practices.

It’s important we recognise the details that patients provide and use it to identify those that may be at a greater risk of oral diseases.

With new patients, it is particularly important to pay attention to the information they disclose for their medical history.

Prescription drugs for mental health conditions, such as anti-depressants, should help you recognise which of your patients are potentially at a greater risk of oral health problems.

Many of your patients may not be aware that some of the medications they have been prescribed can have a knock-on impact on their oral health.

A common side-effect of many medications, especially depression tablets, is dry mouth.

For patients that you deem to be more at-risk of oral diseases as a result of their mental health, endeavour to provide more targeted advice and appropriate oral hygiene measures.

This could come in the form of recommending a toothpaste with a higher fluoride level, or asking patients to come into your practice for check-ups more frequently.

Keeping a patient’s personal and medical information up to date is extremely important in this regard. Doing so allows you to help you identify patients who have recently been put on new medication or diagnosed with new conditions.

With different patients, different approaches will be needed. But the bottom line is that everyone has a right to good oral health. It is our job to help patients break down the various barriers that may prevent them from achieving that.

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