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Interview with a Dental Hygienist: Oral Health and its Effect on Mental Health and Well-being

Contributors:  Natalie Asmussen, Corina Monroe, RDH & David Omolaso

Your oral health affects your overall health — both physically and mentally. It also can play an even more important role during various stages of your life, like pregnancy or menopause.

Additionally, your oral health can have a huge effect on how you see yourself.

Since this is such an important issue, we thought it critical to interview an expert on the topic and share her answers with our readers, to raise awareness and help you find solutions to any oral-health-related problems you may have.

Patients need the knowledge to understand what to do and have the confidence to ask questions to access care and benefits.

Corina Layton, Dental hygienist

In our interview with dental hygienist Corina Layton, we learn about:

  • The relationship between self-esteem and oral health/oral hygiene related
  • The relationship between oral hygiene and socioeconomic levels
  • Lifelong effects of oral health and self-esteem
  • The links between oral health and heart disease, diabetes, and pregnancy
  • Finally, the steps to take to improve your oral hygiene

The relationship between oral health, self-esteem and overall wellbeing

In what ways are self-esteem and oral health/oral hygiene related?

Your self-esteem is always going to be impacted by your oral hygiene. I have seen people request whitening care and how to cure bad breath in the hope of boosting their self-esteem. In addition, they want cosmetic benefits, such as veneers and straightening. You may not even want to smile if you are not confident in your smile. And we all know that smiling is contagious and should be something that someone wants to do.

Do you notice a difference in better oral health/oral hygiene/oral aesthetics among different socioeconomic levels? If so, do you think this affects career/salary, living situations, or educational opportunities?

Demographics and socioeconomic factors do not always play a role in somebody’s oral care. Despite our humble background, my parents ensured my sister and I had consistent dental care! There may be a lack of access or knowledge that can transfer through generations. Parents can transfer that knowledge to their children if they know about good oral hygiene. Hence, while it does not always play a role, it also has its effects.

Do you believe oral hygiene-related self-esteem issues can have a lifelong impact? And If so, what does that look like?

Long term, chances are that someone having self-esteem issues with their oral hygiene may need restorative work to fix them. These problems could be missing teeth, gum disease, cavities, or just tartar buildup, which a dental cleaning can easily solve. Furthermore, Dental care has advanced enough to give any patient that seeks care a confident smile. Dental providers also want patients to be confident and happy with themselves when they smile.

What are the links between oral hygiene and heart disease?

There are many studies that show gum disease bacteria around the heart. There are studies of people with gum disease experiencing more heart attacks and complications related to Cardiovascular Disease (CVD).

What are the links between oral hygiene and pregnancy?

Pregnancy plays a big role in a patient's oral health because a pregnant woman is susceptible to pregnancy gingivitis. They will experience more bleeding, swollen gums, and all the symptoms of gingivitis. I recommend pregnant women schedule regular dental visits every three or four months. These visits will allow for dental cleanings because they are more prone to getting cavities and oral complications. We also recommend a higher-strength fluoride toothpaste during pregnancy if they have good oral hygiene. I have seen mothers return after pregnancy for restorative dental work despite having great oral care during pregnancy.

What are the links between oral hygiene and diabetes?

Diabetes is an auto-immune condition and has a strong link with oral health status. A diabetic patient is significantly more prone to gum disease than a non-diabetic. I usually recommend dental visits every three or four months for their dental cleanings. Also, Diabetes increases the risk of tooth loss in patients with gum compared to one without. This sNature.com: Periodontistudy reviews the current evidence linking periodontitis (gum disease) and diabetes.

In your practice, have you seen a correlation between oral hygiene, socioeconomic level, and risks associated with heart disease, pregnancy, or diabetes?

As with any other area in healthcare and patient risk, a lack of access and knowledge are the common correlations. Patients need the knowledge to understand what to do and have the confidence to ask questions to access care and benefits. Medicaid patients, depending on their state, usually have worse access to care because Medicaid offices are small and busy. If patients cannot access a dentist or adequate information, they may not know they lack good oral care, which can have long-term consequences on their overall health.

What steps can you take to improve oral hygiene?

Patients need an electric toothbrush, fluoridated toothpaste, and good mouthwash to improve oral hygiene. Electric toothbrushes make patients adhere to a full two-minute brush, with 30-second intervals, to ensure they brush each quadrant appropriately. The fluoridated toothpaste will protect their teeth against cavities, and the mouthwash will help flush everything out of their mouth.

However, some mouthwashes contain alcohol which can cause worsen the condition of a patient already experiencing dry mouth. I often recommend non-alcohol-based mouthwashes with adequate fluoride content, such as Closys or vVardis’ mouthwash. Although these are a little bit more expensive, their properties promote oral health without killing off the good bacteria.

How can dentists and hygienists reach communities that may be under-informed about the importance of good oral hygiene? Or lack access to proper healthcare?

Through my growth on social media, I have had the opportunity to educate people globally on good oral hygiene. Dentists and hygienists can reach these communities through partnerships with non-profits. These non-profits should have programs in place with mobile dental units or other companies that travel to the lesser-served populations.

Conclusion

Oral health and self-esteem, and also the quality of your life are all closely related. Thankfully, we learned from Corina that by brushing with an electric toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste, you can take steps right now to improve your oral health.

You should also visit the dentist regularly, and if you can't afford a trip to the dentist, ask about mobile dental clinics that offer low-cost and free preventive services.


Contributors:
Natalie used to work as a Community Health Worker and Health Insurance Navigator. She continues to follow her passion for connecting people with the healthcare they need by writing informative content about dentistry and medicine.
Corina Monroe is a 2020 Dental Hygiene graduate currently practicing full-time in Nashville, TN. Corina has grown a large following of 2.5 million on TikTok and 130 thousand on Instagram as a Dental Hygienist by educating people about dentistry and sharing tips and tricks on having an overall healthy mouth and body.

Sources

Nature.com: Periodontitis and Diabetes. Consulted 6th June 2023.

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