Protecting your mental health can help your oral health

If you are experiencing more worry, fear or anxiety during this pandemic, you aren't alone. These overwhelming emotions can affect your sleeping and eating habits - and may even have consequences for your oral health.

May is Mental Health Month, a time to raise awareness about mental health issues, provide support and remove the stigma surrounding mental health. The timing is more important than ever.

One in 5 people generally experience a mental health concern during their lifetime. But during this pandemic, nearly half of U.S. adults said worry and stress is having a negative impact on their mental health. And many are experiencing some degree of anxiety, isolation and loneliness.

"These extraordinary times can take a toll on our health and well-being," said Dr. Sheila Strock, vice president, dental services and science officer at Delta Dental of Illinois. "Even though we've been taken out of our normal routines, we must continue to take steps to protect our mental, oral and overall health."

Research shows a strong link between mental and oral health. Stress and anxiety produce cortisol, the body's main stress hormone. Increased levels of this hormone can make your body more vulnerable to inflammation of the gum tissues and gum disease.

"Anxiety makes you more susceptible to oral health problems such as canker sores, dry mouth and teeth grinding," Strock said. "Being stressed also increases the likelihood that you may eat poorly, smoke or vape, drink alcohol excessively, or forget to brush and floss your teeth regularly."

Depression can have an even greater effect on your oral health. Almost two-thirds of people with depression reported having a toothache in the last year, higher than the overall population, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Half of the people with depression rated the condition of their teeth as fair or poor.

Fortunately, free resources are available including a new hotline, Call4Calm, from Illinois Department of Human Services. Those experiencing stress and mental health issues can be connected to a counselor by texting TALK to 552020.

You can also protect your mental, oral and overall health by:

• Maintaining self-care and personal hygiene. This includes getting enough sleep, brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing daily.

• Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, rather than starchy snacks and comfort foods that can be bad for your oral health.

• Avoiding tobacco and excessive use of alcohol and marijuana, which can have a negative impact on both your oral and overall health.

• Exercising regularly to help keep anxiety and depression at bay. If you're able to get outside, sunshine can also help boost your mood. Just don't forget sunscreen and lip balm with SPF 30.

• Practicing gratitude and finding ways to keep smiling, which can reduce stress. Try connecting with others by phone or video chat.

It's natural to feel down during this time of uncertainty. Taking steps to protect your mental health during this season of change will help protect your healthy smile for years to come.

About Delta Dental of Illinois

Delta Dental is the national dental benefits leader covering 1 in 3 Americans who have dental insurance. Delta Dental of Illinois is one of 39 member companies that make up the national Delta Dental system. Based in Naperville, Illinois, Delta Dental of Illinois provides dental benefit programs to more than 6,000 Illinois companies and covers 2 million individuals, employees and family members nationwide. Delta Dental of Illinois is committed to improving oral health in our community and furthers this commitment through the work of Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation.

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