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Mental Health Is Health: Depression and Oral Health

Image of Mental Health Is Health: Depression and Oral Health. Air Force Senior Airman Hannah Heater, a dental technician with the 134th Medical Group, Tennessee Air National Guard, practices with a portable x-ray machine Jan. 6, 2024. Dental personnel help keep the force deployment-ready with routine exams and dental education. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Nancy Goldberger)

FALLS CHUCH, Va. – Depression is a serious health issue that can affect your emotional, physical, and social well-being. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 20% of adults in the United States have been diagnosed with depression.

One symptom of depression is loss of energy and motivation. This may mean that tasks like brushing your teeth or going to the dentist can feel impossible or even pointless. As a result, some people with depression may see a decline in their oral health.

How does depression affect oral health?

Depression can cause you to neglect your oral health if you aren’t able to motivate yourself to do daily tasks like brushing your teeth and flossing. This neglect can cause gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth loss.

Depression can also cause you to seek out unhealthy habits that affect your oral health. Some examples of behaviors and symptoms that may affect your oral health include:

  • Eating or drinking sugary or carb-heavy foods. These foods and drinks are major causes of cavities in teeth.
  • Smoking, drinking alcohol, or using recreational drugs.
  • Dental phobia. Many people with depression become anxious about the decline of their oral hygiene and are afraid to go to their regular dental appointments for routine cleanings.
  • Dry mouth from anti-depressant medication. Dryness can increase cavity-causing bacteria in your mouth. Make sure you drink plenty of water to prevent this condition from affecting your teeth.

Managing your oral health

If depression is affecting your oral health, there are things you can do to help.

  • Talk to your dentist. Let your dentist know if depression is affecting your ability to care for your teeth. Your dentist may have suggestions for you on how to keep on top of your oral health care routine.
  • Try to eat fruits and vegetables and drink fluoridated water. The fluoride in fluoridated water helps protect the outside surface of your teeth, called the enamel, which can prevent cavities from forming.
  • Brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, rinse with a fluoride mouthwash, and floss daily. It may be helpful to keep dental supplies in a few different places in your home. This way, your dental supplies will be easy to access, and you’ll have multiple visual reminders to take care of your oral health.

Remember, depression isn’t something you can simply snap yourself out of. It’s a serious medical issue. Seek care and support from health care professionals, including dentists, and try to make daily tasks for taking care of your oral health as easy as possible.

Getting dental care with TRICARE

Dental coverage is separate from TRICARE’s health plan coverage. Your dental coverage is based on who you are.

Active duty service members get their dental care at military dental clinics or through the Active Duty Dental Program.

Other beneficiary types may be eligible for dental coverage through the TRICARE Dental Program or the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program. Enrollment in these programs is voluntary, as noted in the TRICARE Dental Options Fact Sheet.

Getting mental health care with TRICARE

TRICARE health plans cover emergency and non-emergency mental health care. How you get mental health care depends on your beneficiary type and your health plan. Go to Mental Health Appointments to learn more.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org. This resource connects you with trained counselors who can help you get the help you need, 24/7.

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