Although 1 in 5 people in the U.S. suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder each year, we still live in a society that places a stigma on those with mental health issues. Let's be real, our mental health is just as important as our physical health, so why the stigmatism?
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The purpose of this month is to devote time to raise awareness of and reduce the stigma around behavioral health issues, and also highlight how addiction and mental illness can affect us all - patients, providers, families, and our society at large.
Stop the Stigma!
I myself have suffered with addiction, mental health issues, and tooth loss. I can't tell you how many times someone has used the word "crazy" to refer to me. Whether it was said in a joking way or not it's still very hurtful and has caused me to be very hesitant to share any of my story in the future.
We as a society have placed horrible stigmas around addiction, mental health issues, and tooth loss. It's something that no one likes to talk about, but why is this? All three are very common, especially these days, and more closely connected than we realize. Fear. Each issue comes with its own stereotype or label and none of them are positive. People with mental illness, addiction, and tooth loss are automatically viewed in a negative way, so we are treated differently and made to feel ashamed, worthless, or even less than others. This made me hesitant to reach out for support and even at times seek the help I needed.
Depression Over Losing Teeth
When you already have issues with depression and anxiety to begin with, any unexpected traumatic events that occur in your life of course makes the symptoms much worse. The health of my teeth has always been a touchy subject. I, like a lot of others, suffer from periodontal disease so I started having major dental issues as a young adult. Much to the contrary of what many people think when it comes to dentures and losing all of your teeth, I spent thousands of dollars and many, many hours in dental chairs over the years trying to save my natural teeth. Never in a million years did I ever expect to be in full dentures by the age of 45.
Losing all of my teeth was one of the most difficult things I've ever experienced in my life. Losing all of your teeth takes a severe mental and emotional toll on a person; it is exhausting to say the least. Something that I often ask people that are getting ready to have the rest of their teeth extracted for dentures is, are you mentally prepared for this and do you have someone at home that is supportive of you?
This is a very long process, and it's full of many ups and downs. If you already have existing mental and physical health issues and are not stable in your life right now, you may want to think about waiting to start this process. No one will ever be 100% completely ready for this, but being emotionally stable and making sure that you aren't already going through something that's mentally draining is very important before starting this process. For instance, if I was just about to start this process, I would choose to postpone or reschedule any appointments I had because I just lost my Mom about 6 weeks ago. I'm still grieving her death and in no way, shape, or form could handle any extra stress.
Scared of Getting Dentures
The word dentures can be very intimidating and scary especially for someone that is about to be a young denture wearer. Again the stigma that's been placed on dentures, so a lot of people think of or visualize their grandparents when they hear that word, but times have changed. If you are in fear of this whole process, which is completely normal, one thing I would immediately recommend is to get on any social media platform and search on the word "denture gang". One word, hope! You will find hope.
SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration) says, "Self-care is essential for mental health and overall well-being. When you take care of your mental health, your physical and emotional health improves; you become more resilient; and it makes it easier to find ways to manage life stressors in a healthy and positive way."
Being in recovery from addiction something that has been preached to me over and over and over again is practicing good self-care. This is something that's always been hard for me to do as well because I'm a caretaker. I like to take care of everyone else, but tend to forget to take care of myself. I've noticed a lot of denture patients are the same way. Finally accepting that you have to have the rest of your teeth extracted and get dentures and following through with it is practicing good self-care.
You've got to take care of your oral health. Poor oral health can make mental health issues much worse; there is a very strong correlation between the two. I know from personal experience. Before I had my first surgery I was missing all but 4 teeth on top, so I pretty much stayed in the house. I was very very depressed, and I had no self-esteem or self-confidence. I walked hunched over due to the embarrassment.
I know you may be scared, but I promise you your whole life is about to change, and you are going to find a level of new found self-confidence you never knew existed. Take care of yourself!
And remember, you are not alone! 41 million people in the U.S. wear dentures.
So you've gotten yourself through the extractions process and are now the proud owner of a new set of dentures. Everything should be great now right? I mean you're done, you've made it through? Not so fast! What's the old saying it's a race not a marathon? No, it's "This is a marathon not a sprint".
Having already gone through this myself I often talk about false or unrealistic expectations when it comes to dentures. This is a long process, it's a journey. Although you have just made it through the first huge step towards a better you, you've still got a long way to go. You've got to start this journey to a new and better version of you knowing that disappointments will occur along the way, meaning you are most likely going to encounter a problem of some sorts. If you expect it and something does happen then you aren't caught off guard. But if things go smooth the first time then at least you were prepared. You can't ever be too prepared for the denture process.
One last thing I wanted to point out is to expect your emotions and mental state to be all over the place during the first 6 months to a year of getting dentures. This is a very emotionally draining journey. You are going to have periods of depression and increased anxiety especially at first. A lot of people question whether they've made the right decision. That's normal. Eventually your emotions and mental state should calm down and settle once you learn and become more comfortable and confident with your new teeth.
If things don't get better or your mental health gets worse after this process, then please seek out help from your mental health provider. In other words, call your doctor immediately.
Will Things Ever Get Better?
Once you heal from the extractions process and start adjusting to your new dentures things will better. It just takes time. You got this!