Healthy Mouth, Healthy You
Your mouth is a major pathway that introduces well-being or toxicity into your body. Everything you put in the mouth enters your body, therefore it is one of the first areas to be impacted by poor lifestyle choices.
But, we tend to think of the mouth as a separate entity, not connected to other areas of our body. When actually oral health is a mirror into your overall health. In this article, we will cover more about the connection between your mouth and body, warning signs, and a few simple dietary and oral care tips.
Oral Health and Chronic Disease
Health begins with a well-functioning gut. The mouth is the door to the digestive system, the first place that will be impacted by pathogens or poor lifestyle choices. For example, bacteria in your mouth can spread throughout the entire gut and travel to the whole body.
In fact, research has identified multiple connections between oral health and chronic disease. For example, gum disease is correlated with insulin resistance, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and even poor pregnancy outcomes.
The reason why we see these connections is because the mouth is the first step in the digestive process. Being the gatekeeper of the gut, this means it is also intricately connected to the immune system.
And just like the gut, the mouth has its own unique microbiome. When the bacteria in the mouth are well balanced, they can protect us from disease and support good digestion. But, if the microbiome in the mouth is out of balance, this can spread throughout the gut and the entire body. A bacterial imbalance in the gut can also spread into the mouth.
This three way connection between the gut, mouth, and immune system is why maintaining oral health is so important to overall health.
Signs of Poor Oral Health
The mouth is easy to examine, therefore it may be the first area where signs of disease or imbalance are identified. It is important to know what signs to look for that may be an indication of a deeper problem. Here are a few common symptoms that may indicate an underlying illness. If you have any of these signs, speak to your doctor.
- Too little saliva or xerostomia. Saliva helps wash away bad bacteria and reduces damage caused by acid in the mouth. Inadequate saliva can make it difficult to swallow and digest food properly, leading to possible nutrient deficiencies.
- Bad breath or halitosis. Chronic bad breath can be caused by dry mouth, digestive disease, liver or kidney problems, sinus infections, and lung infections.
- Pale gums. Gums that are not pink might indicate anemia or inadequate red blood cells in the body. Anemia can be caused by blood loss, chronic disease, or certain nutrient deficiencies.
- Changes to the color of the tongue. A white, red, or black tongue may be a sign of an underlying illness, nutritional deficiency, or bacterial imbalance.
- Irritated, red gums. If your gums bleed easily during brushing or flossing, this can be a sign of hormone fluctuations or other inflammatory chronic diseases.
- Gum inflammation. When irritation turns into full blown inflammation in the mouth, this is when pathogenic bacteria may be taking over. Gingivitis is reversible gum inflammation, whereas periodontitis is irreversible. This can lead to a receding gum line, permanent dental damage, or systemic bacterial imbalance.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that that 46% of US adults had periodontitis. If you include those with gingivitis, the rate is 93.9%. Inflammation of the gums is an epidemic that is significantly impacting our overall health.
Diet and Oral Health
Just like the rest of your body, your mouth thrives on good nutrition. An unhealthy diet loaded with caffeine, sugar, and processed foods will not support the health of your mouth or body. Inflammatory foods, such as dairy and gluten, can also exacerbate inflammation of the mouth.
A nutritious diet also supports the balance of bacteria in the mouth and provides crucial vitamins and minerals needed for good health. Teeth and gums are living tissues that need nourishment just like any other tissue in the body.
Any diet should be tailored to an individual’s unique needs and preferences. But, in general, here are some of the foods to avoid for optimal oral health:
- Processed foods
- Inflammatory foods such as gluten, dairy, corn
- Artificial sweeteners
- Processed meats
- High sugar fruits.
- Refined vegetable oils
On the flip side, here are the foods you should include in your diet to support optimal oral health:
- Vegetables & greens: such as kale, spinach and broccoli
- Organic fruits and vegetables, when possible
- Omega-3s rich foods such as wild caught fish
- Healthy fats from avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, ghee, soaked nuts and seeds.
- Herbs and spices.
The Best Vitamins & Minerals for Oral Health
Supplementation isn’t always necessary for everyone, but here are a few that may be beneficial for oral health. Speak to your doctor to get a personalized recommendation before taking supplements. All of these important vitamins and minerals for oral health can also be found in the well-balanced diet described above.
- Vitamin A. Found in egg yolks and dark green leafy vegetables. Not all people can convert beta carotene, the plant-based form of the vitamin into active vitamin A, so they may need a supplement.
- Vitamin D. A common deficiency in our modern times. Plays a role in bone and tooth health.
- Vitamin K2. Helps deposit calcium and other mineral into bones and teeth.
- Vitamin C. Necessary for healthy gums and tissues, as well as wound healing.
- Magnesium. Found in dark green vegetables, important mineral for teeth.
- Calcium. Keeps teeth strong.
- Zinc. Helps heal any wounds in the mouth.
Oral Care Tips
Focusing just a few minutes a day on oral care can help you maintain your dental health. Here are a few tips to keep your mouth clean and healthy:
- Brush twice a day with a soft toothbrush. Ideally, first thing in the morning and before bed.
- Consider an electric toothbrush. Two that I like are Sonicare and Oral B Electric.
- Use a non-fluoridated toothpaste as fluoride is a neurotoxin.
- Avoid harmful toothpaste ingredients such as: sodium lauryl sulfate, glycerin, triclosan, blue & red dyes, and artificial sweeteners.
- Floss or brush with interproximal brushes, such as Soft-Picks and Proxabrush.
- Brush your tongue twice a day.
- Avoid harsh antimicrobial rinses, which can kill even the good bacteria in our mouths. Consider oil pulling with coconut oil occasionally as a natural antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal mouth rinse.
Final Thoughts: The Pillars of Good Health
Poor oral health can cause disease in our body; good oral care, on the other hand, can protect us and promote optimal health and wellness. Oral health doesn’t get enough attention when it comes to how it reflects in our overall wellness. We have enough evidence however, to know how deeply oral health is connected to our overall health.
Just like we all know the importance of healthy eating, movement, sleep, and stress management, we need to remember to also consider the health of our mouth.
To optimize your oral health, consider working with a functional dentist who understands the mouth/body connection and the role of a healthy diet. A functional dentist will also avoid toxic products and procedures that are still common in modern dentistry. A great dental team can impact not just your mouth, but your entire well-being.
Want more information about oral health? Read my full article in WebFMD about How Oral Health Affects Your Entire Body.