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Depression and Oral Health: Study Finds Link
May 8, 2014

By Nancy Volkers
InteliHealth News Service

INTELIHEALTH - A large study of national data has found a link between poor oral health and depression.

The study used information from two national surveys. They were done in 2005 and 2008. Together, the surveys included more than 10,000 people. Researchers compared answers to questions about oral health with answers to questions about depression.

Compared with people who had no oral health problems:

  • People with 2 oral health problems were 60% more likely to be depressed
  • People with 4 oral health problems were twice as likely to be depressed
  • People with 6 oral health conditions were nearly 4 times as likely to be depressed

The oral health questions asked in the study covered several topics:

  • The person's own assessment of his or her oral health status
  • History of oral cancer
  • Mouth or facial pain
  • Trouble chewing or eating
  • The person's own opinion about whether he or she needed dental care
  • Days lost to work or school because of dental problems

The depression-related questions were part of a standard questionnaire called the PHQ-9. Questions address how often a person has been bothered by certain things during the last two weeks:

  • Little interest or pleasure in doing things
  • Hopeless feelings
  • Disruptions in sleep or eating patterns
  • Feeling bad about oneself
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Moving or speaking very quickly or very slowly
  • Having suicidal thoughts

The research does not show that oral health problems cause depression. They also do not show that depression leads to oral health problems.

"However, depressed people may be less likely to practice good oral hygiene," said James McManus, DDS, associate clinical professor at the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine. "They may be less likely to visit the dentist. They may also have dietary or tobacco habits that could affect their oral health."

For example, a 2009 study found that people who felt hopeless tended to brush their teeth and visit the dentist less often.

The study appears in the May-June issue of the journal General Hospital Psychiatry.

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