Oral health is critically important, but compared with stomach and intestinal health, it doesn’t tend to make the headlines anywhere near as frequently.
As a result, many people are in the dark about the important of keeping their mouth in optimal condition.
Naturally, we tend to hand over our oral and dental care to dentists. Why wouldn’t we? After all, we can’t safely extract or insert fillings in our own teeth.
But most “regular” dentists don’t provide much information on how to optimize oral health. Nor do they teach the true consequences of poor oral hygiene.
This blog post is the first of a three part series in which we’ll cover:
Poor oral health can be uncomfortable, unsightly, and downright embarrassing. Perhaps even more importantly, a “sick mouth” might trigger a cascade of events that shorten your life.
You might think I’m exaggerating, but the latest research points to substandard oral health being a risk factor for the development of several chronic diseases.
Oral health is no different from general health in the sense that the cells, tissues and structures of the mouth require nutrients to function optimally. Nutritional deficiencies are major contributors to oral health, which is something we’ll cover in the second article.
The other main contributing factor to oral health is the oral microbiome, which is the collection of microbes living in your oral cavity.
Put simply, oral health declines when your body is low in essential nutrients, or when your oral microbiome is out of balance.
Fortunately, these things can be corrected.
I’m sure you’re aware of the main symptoms and health problems associated with the mouth, but let’s list them anyway:
We live in a society in which these symptoms are so common that they’re often seen as “normal.” If we’re not careful, we can fall into the trap of dismissing them because “everyone has them from time to time.”
But this isn’t wise.
A symptom is a symptom, no matter where it is in your body. Symptoms tell you that something’s out of balance. If you ignore mild, basic symptoms for long enough, they might well develop into a serious problem.
For example, did you know that poor oral hygiene is strongly associated with the development of heart disease? Take this statement from the Mayo Clinic, one of the most famous medical clinics in the world:
“Poor oral health has been debated as a possible cause of heart disease for many years. … Research suggests that periodontitis is associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease and that people with chronic gum disease have increased thickness of their neck blood vessels.”
Over the last few years, we’ve been pounded by information on the gut microbiome, which is a fancy word for the vast population of microbes inhabiting the stomach and intestine.
Comparatively little information has circulated in regard to the oral microbiome, which is a bit odd considering that the mouth, stomach and intestine are all part of the same system.
The Journal Nature published a great article on the oral microbiome in 2016. It’s well worth a read. I’m going to share the most important bits, starting with an important quote.
“Oral bacteria have been proposed to play a role in a number of systemic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, adverse pregnancy outcomes, stroke, inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer, respiratory tract infection, meningitis or brain abscesses, lung, liver or splenic abscesses, appendicitis, pneumonia and diabetes.”
This quotation and the diagram below epitomize what I’m trying to communicate here, namely that oral health is a lot more important than most people think. It’s not just about oral symptoms, it’s about the whole body.
Nobody has the same oral microbiome. Genetic variations, diet, stress levels and even birth/delivery mode can alter the oral microbial composition. The diagram below informs us which bacteria we might see in a typical oral microbiome.
Depending on which study or article you read, there are about 300-700 different types of bacteria in the oral microbiome.
In fact, the oral microbiome is believed to contain the second richest assortment of microbes after the intestine.
Most of the oral bacteria are friendly and live in harmony with each other. But a few of them have the ability to grow out of control, which is where problems begin.
It’s well known that certain bacteria contribute to dental decay, gum disease and periodontitis when they overgrow or infect the oral cavity.
In addition to bacteria, yeast and fungi are important members of the oral microbiome. Indeed Candida overgrowth (oral thrush) can cause significant problems, as discussed in the second article.
Once these bugs have overgrown and taken hold, they create ongoing inflammation in the oral cavity, which causes tooth decay, gum disease and other oral symptoms.
In some people, oral inflammation is believed to create domino effects that end up contributing to heart disease and other body-wide problems, as explained above.
We know for sure that oral symptoms are unpleasant. But what’s surprising to many people is that chronic oral problems are associated with serious diseases elsewhere in the body.
In the second article in this series, we’ll take a closer look at the reasons why oral symptoms develop, drilling into the specific “bad bugs” and nutrient deficiencies involved.
In the meantime, should you be concerned about your symptoms, or any other aspect of your health, I’m certain we can help.