Dental Health and Mental Health

By Joshua Walters

Last week I went to the dentist. It’s one of those trips that many individuals do not look forward to and this was no exception. In recent trips the woman who cleans my teeth let me know after my regular scheduled cleaning that I may have to undergo a “deep cleaning” because of my gum line. For those of you unfamiliar with dentist jargon, a “deep cleaning” is a type of oral surgery where the hygienist uses lasers to get under your gums and clean pockets of debris that could cause infections. I wasn’t looking forward to the procedure or the cost attached. 

Historically, I have always had teeth in top condition, but recent years of neglect had caused some concern. You can tell a lot about a person by looking at their teeth, and in many ways the health of your teeth can be a reflection of your mental health. When I was taking care of myself, and my mental health was solid, so was my oral hygiene; when I was down and out living in and out of institutions, my teeth suffered the consequences. 

Just your mental health can affect other aspects of your physical health, I could literally see a difference, smell a difference and I could feel a difference from when my teeth were in good shape and I was taking care of my gums. Many who are in and out of jail, hospitals or living on the streets don’t have the resources or ability to take care of their teeth, and in some cases eventually they lose them. Showing someone your natural smile and have it gleam and sparkle is a result of one having the resources, and the consistency in caring for one’s dental hygiene.

Until I found my current dental provider, I had waited years without coverage. Right away they let me know I would have to come in more often to try an avoid having extra surgeries at an extra expense. More cleanings and more heightened awareness was in order as I had some catching up to do from when my mental health was in bad shape and my dental health suffered. It was the visit before last when they suggested that I go ahead with a deep cleaning, so upon this visit last week I was afraid that they would recommend the same thing. Instead, to my relief, they recognized that I had been doing a better job with my teeth and that my gum line had restored itself to a state where I wouldn’t need the surgery, especially if I kept up the improvement. This news gave me a burst of enthusiasm: I wouldn’t need surgery after all. I was overjoyed. If this experience let me reflect anything, it was that recovery is possible, first with your mental health and then with consistency, your smile.