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Updated on July 26, 2022

The Effects of Anxiety and Depression on Oral Health

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Overview of Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and depression are two common mental health issues that often go hand-in-hand.

Anxiety manifests as excessive worry or fear. Depression causes ongoing feelings of hopelessness.

Both conditions are also linked to poor oral health issues. It’s common for someone with anxiety and/or depression to develop problems like tooth decay and gum disease because they neglect their dental health.

An important part of handling mental health issues is learning to care for your health, despite the daily changes that accompany depression and anxiety.

depressed woman laying on sofa in soltitude

What is Anxiety?

There are different types of anxiety disorders. All of them can affect oral health. 

Some anxiety disorders, like social anxiety disorder (social phobia), are linked to specific circumstances, such as being in public or having to socialize. Others are types of phobias that occur when a specific trigger causes anxiety. The most common type is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

GAD occurs when someone experiences a bout of excessive worry most days for at least 6 months. Often, there is no specific trigger.

Common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Feelings of restlessness or nervousness
  • Feelings of impending danger or doom
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Muscle tension
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Inability to control worry
  • Urge to avoid anxiety triggers

There is no one specific cause of GAD. However, some causes might include:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Certain drugs
  • Alcohol use disorder (AUD)
  • Abnormal brain functioning
  • Exposure to traumatic or stressful events

What is Depression?

Depression is a mood disorder. It causes feelings of sadness and hopelessness. There are different types of depression, including:

  • Major depressive disorder (MDD) — a persistent mood disorder that causes a feelings of sadness, hopeless, and loss of interest in once-loved activities 
  • Seasonal affective depression (SAD) — a type of depression related to seasonal changes
  • Persistent depressive disorder (PDD) — a chronic and continuous type of depression
  • Postpartum (after childbirth) depression —  a depression that occurs following childbirth that goes beyond the usual “baby blues” most women experience

There is no one specific cause of depression. However, some of the things that increase a person’s risk of developing depression include:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Chronic stress
  • Gender
  • Trauma
  • Poor nutrition
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Unresolved grief
  • Certain personality traits
  • Medication
  • Substance use

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Feeling sad, empty, or hopeless 
  • Angry outbursts
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Frustration
  • Loss of interest in things that were once enjoyed 
  • Insomnia
  • Oversleeping
  • Fatigue 
  • Lack of energy and/or motivation
  • Losing or gaining weight due to appetite changes 
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking, or body movements
  • Feeling of worthless or guilty
  • Fixating on past failures or self-blame
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts, or completing suicide
  • Unexplained physical ailments

Can Anxiety and Depression Affect Your Oral Health?

Yes, mental health problems can lead to oral health problems.

Evidence from the University of Queensland shows people with severe mental illnesses have a three-time increased risk of losing their teeth compared to the general population. This could be because many people struggle with self-care when they have anxiety or depression. 

The study examined 2,784 people over 20 years who were diagnosed with mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. People in the study were 3.4 times more likely to lose their teeth and 6.2 times more likely to have decay, need fillings, or have missing teeth.

People with anxiety are less likely to visit the dentist because of fear or stress. Therefore, their dental treatment goes untreated and more oral health issues arise. 

In another study, researchers reviewed data related to psychological disorders and comorbid physical illnesses. They determined that early interventions should include:

  • Oral health assessment
  • Improved oral hygiene practices
  • Management of iatrogenic dry mouth
  • Early dental referrals2

Additionally, researchers from Deakin University in Australia studying depressed subjects found 61 percent reported having mouth pain in the past year. More than half (57.4 percent) considered their teeth to be in fair or poor condition.3

Anxiety and Oral Health

Anxiety can trigger symptoms that affect your dental health. For example, people with anxiety might experience:

  • Canker sores
  • Dry mouth and halitosis
  • Burning mouth syndrome
  • Bruxism (grinding or clenching teeth)
  • Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD)

Depression and Oral Health

Depression also affects oral health and dental care. It makes people more likely to neglect dental health maintenance. With depression, everyday tasks like flossing or brushing teeth might feel challenging. 

People with depression also sometimes lose interest in taking care of themselves. This can lead to a loss of motivation to perform simple self-care tasks. Poor nutrition, another result of poor self-care practices, increases the risk of dental health problems. 

Additionally, depression medication has negative effects on oral health. Symptoms of some antidepressants include:

Other Mental Illnesses That Affect Dental Health

Anxiety and depression are not the only mental illnesses that affect dental health. Others include:

  • Eating disorders, especially bulimia 
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Psychosis
  • Self-harm

Oral Health Tips for People with Anxiety and Depressive Disorders

People with anxiety and depression can do many things to maintain their dental health, including:

  • Brush just before bed and one additional time during the day
  • Avoid sugary foods and beverages
  • Schedule regular dental visits
  • Buy a prescription toothpaste or mouth rinse to decrease risk of tooth decay
  • Speak with their dentist about their increased risk of dental health problems
  • Seek appropriate mental health support and treatment

Resources for Anxiety and Depression

Several organizations provide support and education for people struggling with anxiety and/or depression. 

For example:

8 Sources Cited
Last updated on July 26, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Queens, The University of, et al. “Tooth Loss Three Times Higher in People with Serious Mental Illness.” UQ News.   
  2. Kisely, Steve, et al. “The Oral Health of People with Anxiety and Depressive Disorders – a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Journal of Affective Disorders, vol. 200, Aug. 2016, pp. 119–132, 10.1016/j.jad.2016.04.040. 
  3. Link Found between Poor Dental Health and Depression.” Www.deakin.edu.au.  
  4. Tiller, John W. G. “Depression and Anxiety.” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 199, no. S6, 16 Sept. 2013, pp. S28-31, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25370281/. 
  5. Kisely, Steve, et al. “The Oral Health of People with Anxiety and Depressive Disorders – a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Journal of Affective Disorders, vol. 200, Aug. 2016, pp. 119–132, 10.1016/j.jad.2016.04.040. 
  6. Coltrera, Francesca. “Anxiety: What It Is, What to Do - Harvard Health Blog.” Harvard Health Blog, June 2018.
  7. Mayo Clinic. “Anxiety Disorders - Symptoms and Causes.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 4 May 2018. 
  8. Cademartori, Mariana Gonzalez, et al. “Is Depression Associated with Oral Health Outcomes in Adults and Elders? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Clinical Oral Investigations, vol. 22, no. 8, 1 Nov. 2018, pp. 2685–2702.
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