We’ve shared in several of our past blog posts how important a role the simple smile can play in our overall mental health. Today, we’re delving in to even deeper territory; talking about how a healthy smile might also play a role in helping to enhance the recovery of those living with addiction and mental health issues. In a study released several months ago, researchers looked at the role that good oral health, including fixing broken teeth, caps and other measures to enhance an individual’s smile, plays in their ability to overcome addiction and maintain a healthy lifestyle. A smile it turns out is more than just a mood boost – it just might change a life!
Published in May of this year the University of Utah Health Dentistry School looked at “the benefits of comprehensive oral care to the physical and emotional recovery of patients seeking treatment for substance use disorder.” What they found was “that participants who had their major oral health problems addressed by a dental professional stayed in treatment approximately two times longer and had a more than 80 percent increase in completing their substance abuse treatment program.” (1) It was found that those who received the oral care program generally enjoyed a better quality of life, were able to access long-term employment, reduce drug use and/or the risk of relapse and they also experienced decreased homelessness. The study authors also noted that treating the individual as a whole person – including providing the kinds of complex dental care they often required, was “life-changing.” Described as “resurrecting their self-esteem” the authours suggest “that providing complete oral care as part of treating the whole patient, is critical …..an essential first step on the long path to recovery from drug abuse.”
We all know that in a perfect world it would be nice to say that something like how a person smiles would be irrelevant to how we interact with them in the world. The truth is however a smile is often your first impression upon meeting a stranger, an opportunity to obtain meaningful employment or helps when trying to land that big new client. Smiles have been shown to improve mood, act as a calming influence, signal friendliness and therefore often, more positive interactions. If someone has been struggling with substance abuse disorder and possibly also mental health issues – the power of a beautiful new smile can potentially significantly impact the interactions they have with others – to their benefit. While the study did not look at other factors that may have played a role in the better recovery statistics of those who had comprehensive dental work, it certainly seems to suggest that access to good oral health care indeed played a significant role in their ability to remain addiction free. It seems a smile really can be life-changing! On that note, we will end as we always do with our gentle reminder: “don’t forget to be a BFF with your mouth and Brush that SMILE!”