Updated: Jan 29
As a dental hygienist in training, I am familiar with how problems with mental health can overlap and take a toll on one’s physical health. I have witnessed firsthand that when one’s mental health is in distress, it can be difficult to take care of their body, let alone their teeth. In fact, lack of motivation, which is a common symptom of depression, can lead to neglect of one’s overall health and hygiene. Some of the first things people stop doing when depressed is brushing their teeth long enough (if at all), showering, and grooming. Here are five tips from a dental hygiene student on how to take care of your oral health when you are depressed.
Tip # 1
It's time to start your day but mentally you only have energy to complete one task in your morning routine. Try brushing your teeth while taking a shower. Trick your body into thinking you're doing one task when in actuality you're taking care of your physical health by cleaning your body, oral health by cleaning your teeth, and mental health by starting the day fresh.
Tip # 2
You don’t have the mental energy to even brush your teeth. Don’t feel any shame, try rinsing with an alcohol-free mouth rinse that contains fluoride. The fluoride in the rinse will fight the cavities while you focus on taking care of other aspects of your life and/or mental health. That’s one more task you can cross off on your stressors list.
Tip # 3
Invest in an electric power toothbrush. They statistically are found to remove more plaque (germs that cause cavities and gum disease) than using a hand held toothbrush. There is no need to brush back and forth or around in circles. The power toothbrush does all the work for you. Self-care activities don’t all require a lot of time or effort.
Tip # 4
Having trouble getting out of bed? Brushing your teeth and rinsing seem too big of a task? Sugar-free gum with xylitol is a great way to care for your oral health if this is how you are feeling. Xylitol reduces the risk for cavities by reducing the amount of cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth. Sugar-free gum with xylitol is also a great way to help manage dry mouth which is a side effect of many psychotropic medications. Sugar-free gum with xylitol is also a great alternative to sugary candy for children that can contribute to poor concentration, restlessness, and feelings of anxiety.
Tip # 5
Do you find yourself binging on candies or junk food during a depressive episode? Depression, anxiety, or just a rough day can increase our desire to get a quick endorphin fix and eating unhealthy foods can spark a rush of endorphins. Hard chips, gummy candy, and sugary beverages can sit in between your teeth and gums and create an environment that is like a party for cavities.. If brushing is not an option, rinsing with water or drinking a sip of water once done with a meal or sugary juice can help balance the pH of your mouth to make it a less friendly environment for cavities to develop.
Depression can throw off one’s daily routine and derail their overall mental and physical health. Although brushing and flossing may seem like something insignificant, it is not. It is a small step to help people get back on track physically AND mentally. Start small and celebrate each victory. Confidence from celebrating the little successes can make fighting for the bigger ones easier.
Disclaimer: This blog and its contents is not intended to serve and does not serve as a substitute for medical treatment, advice, or diagnosis. Seek medical attention if you are in need of medical treatment, advice, or an evaluation. Call 911 immediately if you are experiencing a mental health emergency.