Smiles are necessary for communication; they build trust, reinforce friendships, and encourage relaxation. As a natural reflex to joy and happiness, smiles allow people to express themselves in a positive way. This is precisely why an individual’s resistance to smiling can have a severe impact on their emotional state. Unfortunately, one out of four Americans do just that because they’re ashamed of their dental health.
Think of the happiest moments in your life. Whether you’ve imagined the birth of your child, your wedding day, or a particularly perfect vacation, the thought has undoubtedly brought a smile to your face, just as it did when you were living it. Now, consider how things would’ve changed if you were embarrassed about your teeth; every single one of those moments would have been overshadowed by your extreme awareness, which definitely detracts from the experience.
There are an estimated 350 million people living with depression throughout the world. Though there are many sources of depression, a lack of confidence is one of the quickest routes to an unhappy and dissatisfied life. Depression finds a way in through this exposed wound and becomes a lying bully, telling us we’re worthless, that no one will ever love us — all because our teeth grew in a little wonky.
Even worse, the depression triggered by our lack of self-esteem can make a bad situation even worse. Depressed individuals often suffer from apathy: they struggle to perform basic tasks, like showering and doing laundry or tidying up. Oral hygiene tends to fall under this category; brushing and flossing quickly take a backseat when that mean and lying bully tells you to just stay in bed all day. And, because depression is often accompanied by stress and anxiety, you may find yourself facing the following complex oral problems.
- Bruxism: Bruxism describes the unintentional grinding of teeth and/or clenching of the jaw. If you catch yourself clenching your teeth during stressful moments — anything that makes you feel nervous, anxious, angry, or frustrated — you may accidentally be grinding your teeth down. This can cause cracked teeth, extreme sensitivity (because you’ve essentially worn down the enamel of your teeth), and flat teeth.
- TMJ Disorders: The temporomandibular joint in your jaw is what controls the opening and closing of your mouth. Stress can cause you to overwork and aggravate this joint due to excess clenching (much like bruxism). If unchecked, TMJ disorders can cause intense pain, popping and clicking noises, and even the inability to open and close your mouth easily.
- Gum Disease: Recent studies have found that emotional factors play a significant role in the development of gum disease in adults. Typical stressors such as family, work, and money all contributed to increased levels of gum disease, which would undoubtedly be exacerbated by depression.
If any of these disorders, in addition to a lack of consistent and thorough brushing and oral care, go unattended for too long, they may cause teeth to fall out — or be pulled out. That can lead to another major problem, the loss of bone in the jaw: the width of the bone can be reduced by as much as 25% in the first year after tooth loss. Even worse, studies have shown that the more missing teeth a person has, the lower their life expectancy. Those with 20 or more natural teeth at age 70 had a considerably higher life expectancy than those who have fewer.
It all seems to be a cruel and unforgiving cycle, with one problem giving way to another, worse problem. The best defense, as simple as it sounds, is basic oral care. Even if your smile isn’t the whitest, or the most straight and aligned, it can still be healthy! Do your best to brush twice a day and you can prevent the painful (and costly) issues listed above — you may even come to appreciate the individuality your wonky teeth present.