If you’ve experienced illness related to mercury amalgam fillings, you probably know all too well the mental effects that mercury exposure can cause: brain fog, irritability, anxiety, depression.
But this is far from the only link between dental conditions and mental health – a fact revealed by intriguing new research published this past spring in General Hospital Psychiatry.
Specifically, the study explored the relationship between oral health and depression. Analyzing data from the large, ongoing research program known as NHANES (the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey), the researchers found a strong link between the two – and that the more dental problems a person had, the more severe their depression.
In fact, 61% of participants who reported depression also reported mouth pain during the previous year. Over half said their teeth were in fair or poor condition.
The study adds to earlier findings of a relationship between tooth loss and depression – tooth loss being a common result of severe periodontal (gum) disease.
Now, whether and how the dental conditions were contributing to depression – or vice versa – was beyond the scope of both of these studies. But both point to a common denominator: inflammation. (Yes, the latest science shows a key role for inflammation in depression. You can read more about it here.)
As we’ve discussed before, inflammation in general is a healthy response – a sign that your body is working as it should to fight off injury or infection and remain healthy. The trouble is when it becomes chronic – an ongoing, long-term condition that worsens over time. In this way, it’s sort of like your body’s stress response: a great thing in the short term (acute stress) that can literally save your life, but a source of trouble when chronic – when the body is constantly kicking into that red alert mode.
And as with stress, much of the chronic-ness is due to lifestyle factors. In a 2013 review of the science on the roles on inflammation, oxidative stress and nitrosative stress in depression, the authors list a number of key risk factors:
These include psychosocial stressors, poor diet, physical inactivity, obesity, smoking, altered gut permeability, atopy, dental caries, sleep and vitamin D deficiency.
Notably, most all of these are things that we can control. You may have to make choices you don’t like. For instance, opting for organic food may mean devoting more money to your food budget and less to entertainment. Or it may mean carving out time to take cooking classes to learn how to make delicious, healthy meals from whole foods rather than pre-packaged products.
It becomes an issue of priorities: What matters to you and what will you do to create time, space and resources in your life? It may involve sacrifice, but don’t we routinely do that for things that we value – like parents who sacrifice everything for their children?
We owe it to ourselves to value our own health and well-being as much.
For more ideas on making positive, healthful and health-focused changes in your life, see our previous post on setting goals.
Image by Phoney Nickle, via Flickr