I have been a Dentist for 24 years and a Dental Hygienist for 9 years before that. Part of the reason I became a Life and Health Coach is due to my frustration with the healthcare system. One of the biggest ways the system has failed us is by the development of all the specialties. Our bodies have been divided up like we are some sort of human puzzle. We are being treated like all our parts are separate from one another; like all our systems run independent from each other. I am here to remind you that what happens in one part of your body, affects the entire system.
Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes
In my office I have posters of healthy eating, pictures of fruits, vegetables, and the good ole BMI chart. It is surprising the reactions I get to these. “What does this have to do with my teeth?” I actually love this question because it gives me the opportunity to talk about how they are sitting in a healthcare office and that their mouths are part of their entire body, and that the health of their mouths has an impact on their total health. I understand where this mentality comes from. Their visits to the dentist are not even covered by their medical insurance. The separate dental policies barely scratch the surface in covering their needs. Somehow health insurance doesn’t deem eyes, ears, and mouths to be parts of our body. At least this gives me the freedom to offer the best treatment without being dictated to by the big business of Insurance companies. There is a reason that the tallest buildings here in Boston are called The Prudential Building and The John Hancock Building, but that is a subject for another blog.
Our Bodies’ Gatekeeper
Our entire digestive tract is a tube that runs from our mouths to our booty. This tube has an incredible number of functions. According to Healthline.com, our gut is responsible for putting our body in working order. Besides digesting our food and supplying our body with nutrients, it houses 70 percent of our immune system, it produces 95 percent of our serotonin (low levels of this are attributed to anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses) and is responsible for toxin and waste elimination.
The mouth is the first part of this process. Healthy teeth allow us to chew our food. Chewing our food up to 30 times before swallowing is recommended to start breaking down the food for digestion. It also mixes with enzymes in our saliva which starts the breakdown of carbohydrates and fats. If this process is rushed, or if the teeth and salivary glands are not healthy enough to perform this task, our digestion is hindered. If we do not digest our food properly, our body does not get the nutrients it requires for energy and to stay healthy. Mindfully slow down your chewing and you will notice this process taking place; the vegetables you are chewing will become sweeter the more you chew them.
The Less Obvious Connections
The American Heart Association has recognized the correlation between oral health and heart disease since 2012. At this time the AHA concluded that gum disease is associated with an increased risk in developing heart disease. They stated that poor dental health increases the risk of bacterial infection in the blood stream which can affect the heart valves. Tooth loss patterns are connected to coronary artery disease, and there is strong evidence that people with diabetes benefit from periodontal (gum) treatment. According to Harvard Health Publishing, there are theories that suggest the bacteria that cause gingivitis and periodontitis also travel to the blood vessels in other parts of the body where they cause blood vessel inflammation and damage, tiny blood clots, and heart attack and stroke may follow. There are other theories that say it is the bodies’ own immune response of inflammation that sets off a whole cascade of vascular changes in the heart and brain. For this same reason, it is suggested that inflammation caused by oral bacteria is linked to auto immune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease.
The Buzz About Microbiome
You may have heard about our microbiome when talking about our gut flora. Those of you who have been on antibiotics may know the consequences of what happens when they become out of balance. There is also a normal flora to our oral cavities as well. According to Nature, the entire community of microbes in our mouths work together to help the human host. There are bacteria that help inhibit inflammation. There are also some that regulate the acidity of our mouths and some that help kill oral pathogens. It has been discovered that there are bacteria that help with more than just oral health. We rely on our oral organisms to transform nitrate, from the fruits and vegetables we eat, to nitrite, which is then converted to nitric oxide which helps regulate blood pressure. Our bodies don’t have these enzymes to do that. Our entire microbiome is very fascinating, and it is currently the topic of a lot of study. I mean our body hosts more bacterial cells than we have cells that make up our actual body!
How Can We Protect Our Oral Flora?
The Human Microbiome Project, is an extensive study conducted by the United States Institutes of Health (NIH) to learn more about the bacteria that coexist with us. They found that oral pathogens were present in people with and without oral disease. If you have a healthy, balanced oral flora, they are kept in check. Other associative studies have found altered oral microbiome in a growing list of diseases such as colorectal cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease. As a dentist, I was always taught to go after these oral pathogens, but the problem is, it is difficult to kill the bad bacteria without killing off the good ones. There is currently work underway to produce an effective probiotic oral supplement, not unlike the ones we take for our intestinal tract. These come in the form of lozenges to come in direct contact with the oral flora. Until such treatment is perfected, at the very least, avoid oral products containing triclosan, which can wipe out your healthy bacteria. Other tips are to eat, chew, or drink (with pulp) nitrate-rich, high fiber vegetables including celery, beetroot, chard, and rhubarb. Eat, chew or drink prebiotic, high fiber foods to feed the good oral bacteria including nuts, fruits, and seeds. Use your toothbrush, floss, and tongue scraper to manually remove bacterial plaque and help keep numbers between species in balance. Avoid excessive use of antibacterial mouthwashes. Avoid binge drinking alcohol as this can disrupt the diversity of your oral microbiome and allow the pathogens to flourish. Avoiding smoking since it will disrupt the protective salivary flow and dry out the oral cavity. Hmmm, have you heard any of these things before? Sure sounds like a recipe to keep your entire body healthy!
In conclusion, I suggest to you that keeping one part of your body healthy is going to cascade to all the pieces that make up your beautiful human puzzle, including your head, neck, muscles of mastication, TMJ, and oral cavity. There is a saying in the coaching world, “how you do one thing, is how you do everything.” I feel like this also applies to our health. Take care of all your body parts, as well as your mind and spirit, and you will have a long, good quality life, and please remember when you go to the dentist you are giving attention to an important aspect of your entire health.