Objectives: Previous studies suggest a positive relationship between mental health and oral health in elderly populations. No such research has been conducted on homeless youth. In this exploratory study, we tested the hypothesis that poor mental health is related to poor self-reported oral health. Methods: Data were analyzed from surveys administered to homeless youth in Seattle, ages 14-28, in 2005 (n=38). T-tests were used to test relationships between mental health (measured by a 7-item Mental Health Inventory [MHI]) and self-reported oral health (α=0.10). T-tests and Pearson chi square tests were used to test for associations between other variables and the main study variables. Results: Respondents with a higher MHI had lower self-reported oral health (p=0.09). Those who did not finish high school (p=0.012), used methamphetamines (p=0.008), or used other drugs (p=0.079) had poorer mental health. Self-reported oral health was significantly higher for individuals who attended school in Washington (p=0.095) and those who had dental insurance (p=0.044). Respondents with specific dental problems reported worse oral health [sensitive teeth (p=0.034), discolored teeth (p=0.039), broken teeth/fillings (p=0.020), or toothache (p=0.035)]. Conclusion: Contrary to our original hypothesis, better mental health was associated with poorer self-reported oral health. While additional studies are needed, these exploratory findings suggest that homeless youth with better mental health have a greater capacity to recognize oral health problems. Future interventions aimed at improving the oral health among homeless youth might be tied to mental health interventions, which could help to further integrate medicine and dentistry and benefit vulnerable populations.
Keywords: Adolescence, Children, Health services research, Homeless youth and Psychology
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