Mental Illness and Poor Dental Health – Often Overlooked

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

Psychiatric patients experience a much greater incidence of poor dental health than the general population, a 2015 review of the medical literature has revealed. According to the analysis, individuals with severe mental illness were nearly three times as likely to have lost all their teeth. They also had a significantly higher number of decayed, missing, and filled teeth. The analysis examined 25 studies and compared some 5,000 psychiatric patients with 40,000 individuals from the same study or community survey.

The researchers concluded that oral health needs to be included in addressing overall health issues of people with severe mental illness. Such help could include assistance with oral hygiene, even by non-dental personnel, and early dental referral.

 My Viewpoint: This research adds to our understanding of oral health and the repercussions associated with lack of it. Gum disease and major loss of teeth are linked to increased risk of other illnesses, including cardiovascular disease. People forget that the body is a holistic entity; the parts are connected. Disease, inflammation, and infection in one part of the body can spread and contribute to problems in other parts, like the heart or the brain. In this case, oral bacteria from tooth decay and gum disease can spread and cause damage elsewhere.

 What This Means to You: We all get medical checkups. Individuals with mental illness may fall into the cracks because of the overriding issues in connection with their condition. This study adds one more issue – among many – that mental health personnel and close relatives should be aware of.

 Recommendation: If you have a loved one with mental illness you may want to remind that person about getting a dental checkup. This can be quite challenging. You may have to make the dental appointment and physically accompany the person, depending on his or her stability and insight.

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