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.
The research, published in the September issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, shows that psychiatric patients have not shared in recent improvements in dental health.
Researchers from the University of Queensland, Australia, analysed 14 studies into the oral health of people with severe mental illness published over the last 20 years. All the psychiatric patients in the studies (2,784) had been diagnosed with severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia, dementia, bipolar disorder or other affective disorders.
The researchers found that the psychiatric patients were 3.4 times more likely to have lost all their teeth. They also had an average of 6 more decayed, filled or missing teeth than people without a psychiatric illness.
The researchers believe a combination of factors are to blame. 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.
Lead researcher Professor Steve Kisely, of the University of Queensland, said:
Our analysis shows that, although the oral health of the general population has improved in much of the world, psychiatric patients remain at a disadvantage. This mirrors findings in other areas such as cardiovascular disease, where the health of the general population has improved – but not that of people with severe mental illness.
In a UK survey, the vast majority of psychiatric patients reported that clinical staff had never asked them about any dental problems. We believe that oral health should be part of the standard assessment for all patients with severe mental illness.
When patients are admitted to hospital, their care plans should include a basic assessment of oral hygiene – including factors known to cause oral ill-health such as medication, tobacco and drug use. Patients with mental illness who are treated in the community should be given advice on diet, smoking and brushing technique. We believe policy-makers should also consider providing free, accessible dental care for people with severe mental illness.
Kisely S, Quek L-H, Pais J, Lalloo R, Johnson NW and Lawrence D. Advanced dental disease in people with severe mental illness: systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Psychiatry 2011; 199:187-193 [PubMed abstract]
What scares me even more is that (or, makes me more angry, really), is that my state’s public health insurance (Massachusetts/MassHealth) used to cover dentures, but now they cover NEITHER dentures NOR root canals on teeth other than the front four (two top, two bottom). So, effectively, if someone gets any kind of infection, they pull the teeth, and won’t replace them. As if persons with chronic mental illness didn’t face enough stigma! – Natalie (practicewisdom.blogspot.com)
I saw a study – or two possibly- reported elsewhere some time ago linking gum disease in pregnancy to higher rates of problems with blood pressure and post-natal depression: I am terrible with remembering to brush mine – but I had thought tackling gum problems could help my mental health problems; it is still worth a try but the evidence here suggests to me that mental health problems could be the root of it all rather than it being a very powerful somatic-loop of some kind as I had thought.
I think the way greater intervention is delivered will be crucial: a state-syste doesn’t deliver ‘love’ – and perhaps all the parentified fuss of ‘have you been brushing your teeth?’ etc – very well. Or does it? I don’t know but expect cries of ‘patronising gets!’ And try not to be.
Specialist ‘general practice’ health services that are delivered within existing mainstream settings and based on a mix of intensive and regular solution-focussed therapy which is carefully and deliberately building on existing strategies to keep on top of things and tackling the whole range/interlocking of complex needs: psychological; medical (including dentistry and optometry dermatology physiotherapy and chiropody); domestic (life-skills coaching/mentoring – hygiene and daily rhythms; goal-setting/progression around household standards such as decor and furnishing/equipping//hoarding); and social (advicework and befriending and budgeting and tenancy and political and environment engagement and encouraging normal social support networks). We could see ‘brief therapy’ as the base-layer on which to get an overview and other interventions including possibly other styles of therapy combined with the domestic coaching linked to breaking down barriers to healthy person in good-enough parenting and social participation. That’s what we want!
I don’t want to be micro-managed or keep looking for excuses and shifting the blame onto lacking provision and at the same time I do!
Has anyone considered that this could be a side effect of psychiatric drugs? I woke up one morning to find one of my front teeth about to fall out. I do not neglect oral hygiene and I know many other people who have taken antipsychotic drugs who have the same experience.
The patient is always to blame – this is attributed to the poor dental hygiene of MH patients.
MH patients die prematurely – this is attributed to lifestyle when, in fact, MH patients receive sub-standard physical health care.
The RCPsych urged shrinks to reduce the incidence of sudden cardiac death. The response was to carry out ECGs on MH in-patients. Unfortunately the RCPsych did not arrange for psychiatrists to receive training in interpreting ECGs so they fail to refer patients to Cardiologists where appropriate and do not even report abnormal ECGs or other abnormal tests to GPs in the discharge summary.
Patients who receive repeat prescriptions in the community for physical conditions, eg high blood pressure, heart disease, etc often do not receive essential medications on MH wards.
It’s time to stop blaming the patient. FAIR TREATMENT NOW – PHYSICAL HEALTH.
[…] not to be believed. They die sooner than people without mental health issues. They suffer greater tooth loss, diabetes, obesity, heart disease- you name it, people with mental health problems are more likely […]
I suspect that some antipsychotic medication is not good for the bones and teeth. When I told my dentist that I was on Risperidone injections he said that this “does not help” when it comes to the health of the teeth.
Thanks for this. My tooth problems seem to relate to risperidone. They started when I was put on it, my teeth started crumbling. Now I have just finished tapering off my teeth seem to be strengthening. I don’t eat sugar.