The Connection Between Oral Health and Mental Health

State of Oral Health Equity in America 2021 
Research Brief 

New Survey Finds Poor Mental Health Status May Be Linked to Dental Fear and Delayed Dental Care

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, poor mental health could be linked to exacerbated oral health issues. Studies have shown that those with poor mental health also tend to have poor oral health, and are more likely to have decayed teeth, periodontal disease, and dry mouth. During the last year there has been an increased incidence of cracked teeth which media reporting has linked to the stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Access to care was also hindered by closure of dental offices at the height of the pandemic, which worsened oral problems.

In January and February 2021, The CareQuest Institute for Oral Health conducted a nationally representative survey to examine attitudes, experiences, and behaviors related to oral health. Respondents self-rated their mental health and oral health status and answered questions about oral healthcare utilization. The survey relied on self-report of the individual’s mental and emotional health, which is impacted by myriad factors and personal circumstances. Findings from this study showed consistent oral health disparities among those with self-identified poor mental health.

Some findings from the survey include:

  • Almost one out of five respondents rated their current mental health status as fair or poor.
  • 47% of respondents with poor mental health said their last dental visit "went well, but they were nervous" compared with 27% of those with good mental health status.
  • Those who had poor mental health were nearly four times more likely to report they were self-conscious or embarrassed because of their teeth, mouth, or dentures than those respondents with good mental health.

Download the report and read more about our findings from this survey in our new series, State of Oral Health Equity in America 2021