I’ll admit it – I’m tooth-ambivalent.
I think most of us are, particularly in New Zealand where there’s no subsidies on dental treatment for adults. That annual reminder card comes around, and you just… well… file it with the supermarket leaflet and “good news” from the local Baptists.
I am quite attached to my teeth, however. I wouldn’t want to lose them – my dad had false teeth from a very young age, and only fairly recently was able to afford to have them replaced with a new set. The old ones had become worn down to nothing over years of use.
There is a new study which suggests that us mentals have more cause for concern when it comes to our oral health. Conducted in Australia and published in the latest issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, it found that people with “severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are over three times more likely to lose their teeth because of poor oral health than the general population.”
“People with severe mental illness may not be able to prioritise their oral health, or be unable to clean their teeth properly because of poor housing or homelessness. They may be reluctant to see a dentist because of they are scared of treatment, or worried about the cost. Some medications such as antidepressants and mood stabilisers can also reduce the flow of saliva and cause dry mouth (xerostomia), which increases plaque formation.”
For me, I’d say it’s a combination of worrying about the cost and laziness. I’ll go to the dentist if something is dreadfully wrong, eg. Something is hurting or I’ve chipped a tooth.
Dry mouth has never been a major side effect for me from medication, but I did find a couple of years back that I was a chronic tooth-grinder, mostly in my sleep, and caused by anxiety. This had worn my back teeth down to the point where I had to have them “rebuilt”, just like the Six Million Dollar Man, and with nearly as high a price tag.
But while the bacteria that causes plaque can eat away at your teeth (remember that old urban legend about putting a tooth in a glass of Coke and having it dissolve overnight?), there’s some new emerging evidence to show that other forms of bacteria could actually help us feel better.
Probiotic yoghurt is showing promising signs of having a positive effect on brain chemistry:
Professor John Cryan of University College, Cork, said: ‘By affecting gut bacteria, you can have a very robust and quite broad-spectrum effects on brain chemistry and behaviour.
‘Without overstating things, this does open up the concept that we could develop therapies that can treat psychiatric disorders by targeting the gut.
‘You could take a yoghurt with a probiotic in it instead of an antidepressant.’
Some good potential news for the future then, especially for those of us who don’t like taking pills. I can certainly vouch for the effectiveness of probiotics when you’ve got an upset stomach. In addition, there’s much evidence already to suggest that food affects mood, something I’ve been sharply reminded of lately with my crap diet and resulting tiredness.
Maybe if we feel just a little bit better, we’ll be more motivated to go and make that dental appointment? Like other medical issues, we can put looking after our teeth down the priority list, but as one horrific recent case in the US has shown – some dental problems, left untreated, can kill you.
If for no other reason than they usually have interesting posters on the roof.