Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a top priority for many people. Our diets and physical activity are some of the first things we think to take care of. During check-ups, we watch our cholesterol levels and our heart health. From head-to-toe, there are a lot of nooks and crannies to investigate. But, how well do you know the health of your teeth and gums? And do you know the ways this small area can affect your overall health?
Beyond the Mouth: How Oral Hygiene Affects Your Whole Body
We’re all aware of the importance of brushing and (hopefully) flossing. Typically, when we spend time cleaning our teeth, it is for vanity — to remove stains and freshen breath — but, also to avoid pesky cavities that require fillings. Skipping out on a potentially painful root canal, however, is far from the only reason you should prioritize your oral health. Regular brushing and flossing stave off gum disease, but if you start slacking with your routine it may be a lot more than just your mouth that suffers.
Oral diseases are heavily linked with inflammation and other disorders that can affect an array of systems in the body. Once plaque builds up on the teeth it begins to cause gum degradation and tooth decay. The decayed particles can then make their way into the circulatory system triggering chronic bodily inflammation. These particles can also wind up in your liver, triggering long-term health effects. Advanced oral disease also raises your risk of suffering a fatal heart attack. While the gums may seem like a small area, their neglect can be responsible for a whole host of health issues with deadly potential.
It may be surprising to learn that poor oral hygiene is linked with heart attacks, but it doesn’t end there. Sick gums can create bacteria that find their way into your lungs, as well. This causes more inflammation that turns into respiratory issues. If this hasn’t inspired you to take extra good care of your teeth just yet, think a little farther into the future. A study published in Behavioral and Brain Functions links tooth loss caused by gum disease with increased risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Practicing Proper Oral Hygiene
Now that you know how connected the mouth, mind, body connection is, you’re probably concerned with how to avoid all these excess health failures. Fortunately, the answer is pretty simple: Brush and floss regularly! Ideally, a cleaning and oral check-up should happen twice a year, as well. This gives dentists an opportunity to ensure that your brushing patterns are working and that your gums are in proper health. Other pre-existing health issues, such as diabetes, can increase your risk for developing gum disease, so trips to the dentist are really the best way to avoid any surprises.
In between professional cleanings, make sure to brush and floss at least twice a day. There is some disagreement about whether brushing first and then flossing is the way to go or if the reverse is more reliable. Benefits exist with both methods, so the American Dental Association (ADA) has mentioned that either way is acceptable as long as you do a thorough job.
Brushing and flossing are the obvious means to ensuring good dental health, but have you ever considered other options? There are alternative ways to avoid health risks associated with oral care and these measures will help you double-down in your fight against plaque build-up.
Extra Steps You Can Take
Anthropology has taught us quite a bit about the ways our changing diets have affected our overall health through the ages. The oral flora and general condition of preserved skeletal mouths indicate that the introduction of first carbohydrates through farming diets and later refined sugars has altered the health of our teeth and gums. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, cavity-causing bacteria have begun to build up and linger in our mouths.
Now, this doesn’t mean you have to throw away all the sweets in the house, but watching how much sugar and bread you consume will not only benefit your oral health, but the health of the rest of your body. Try sticking with more foods that our ancestors ate: lots of fresh, organic produce and much less processed foods.
Another addition to your diet that can improve your oral health is incorporating fermented foods into your meals. Fermented vegetables are particularly high in vitamin K2. This vitamin is already found in your saliva and it aids in the breakdown of plaque build-up. By eating more fermented vegetables, you will increase your K2 consumption. This helps with your digestion as well as protecting the delicate flora of your mouth. A diet high in vitamin K2 can significantly reduce plaque build-up on the teeth and discourage the start of damaging gum diseases. I recommend Diamond Nutritionals vitamin K2 with D3 supplement for a healthy smile. In my experience, vitamin K2 is best taken with therapeutic amounts of vitamin D3.
I also recommend Foundation Vitamins and Minerals as part of a comprehensive wellness plan. Taking the proper dose, form, balance and quality of vitamins and minerals is of the utmost importance in maintaining good health. This unique formula is widely used by my patients around the world, along with vitamin K2 and D3, to promote cardiovascular, bone, neurologic and immune system health.
The Ancient Practice of Oil Pulling
One oral-care practice that has been gaining some traction in the United States is the ancient technique of oil pulling. Using this folk remedy, you gently swish about a tablespoon of coconut oil or sesame oil in your mouth for approximately 10-20 minutes. The concept here is that the oil will “pull” bacteria and viruses from the mouth, and these are then expelled by spitting out the oil.
By oil pulling several times per week, your oral health may show an improvement — many claim that the technique helps in strengthening the gums, fighting plaque and whitening teeth. And, of course, as the teeth and gums become healthier, so goes the rest of the body.
Some important things to keep in mind regarding oil pulling:
- Many oil-pulling practitioners advocate refined coconut oil over other options (such as sesame, sunflower or olive).
- Ensure that once the swishing is complete, you spit out the oil – do not swallow it. As the ADA notes, swallowing the oil can cause potential adverse health effects, including upset stomach, diarrhea and possibly even lipoid pneumonia.
- Nor should you spit the oil into your sink – this can serve to eventually clog your sink’s pipes.
- Chicago dentist Dr. Jessica Emery (Sugar Fix Dental Loft) notes in Dental IQ that you “should swish gently – if your jaw starts aching after 5 minutes, slow down.”
- Most practitioners utilize oil pulling as a supplement; they don’t substitute oil pulling for their standard brushing, flossing and other oral regimens.
- The American Dental Association (ADA) has, for various reasons, come out against the practice of oil pulling, both as a supplementary oral-hygiene practice, “and certainly not as a replacement for standard, time-tested oral health behaviors and modalities.”
Now that you know more about the balance of oral and bodily health it’s time to step up your oral-hygiene game. Break out the floss, organic veggies, and coconut oil! With these methods, you’ll be sure to avoid detrimental and unnecessary risks to your overall health down the road.
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