It always amazes me when I hear a friend say, “I don’t have time (or money) for my regular dental check-ups,” or “It’s just not a priority now.” The more I learn about how oral health affects overall health, the more I feel like screaming when I hear these statements. Have you ever said this? Do you go for your regular dental check-ups and follow up with what your dentist recommends?
Why Oral Health is So Important
The mouth is the entrance to your body and plays an essential role in your health. For example, gum disease, an infectious inflammatory condition caused by bacteria growing on the enamel of teeth, can last for decades and put an enormous strain on the immune system. This is one reason why professional dental cleaning is recommended every six months. I bet not many people who are concerned with supporting a strong immune system even think about this. And in today’s world, your immune system is everything!
If your immune system is focusing its attention on your mouth, it isn’t available to other parts of your body, but other parts of your body may need immune support. A University of Pennsylvania study found that the bacteria that causes gum disease can disarm the immune system.1 This is a problem since nearly 50% of all U.S. adults over age 30 and 70% of U.S. adults over age 65 have some form of gum disease.2 Wow. That’s mind-blowing. Could this be why so many people have difficulty overcoming cold and flu viruses?
Poor Oral Health is Connected to Disease
Most people have heard about the connection between poor dental health and heart disease. However, dental problems can affect nearly every system in the body. Dr. Reinhard Voll, a German physician, estimated that nearly 80% of all illness is related entirely or partially to problems in the mouth.3 In fact, the presence of periodontal disease is moderately associated with the risk of developing other problems including infectious eye diseases.4 A growing body of evidence has linked poor oral health to several chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.5
Dental Conditions May be Linked to Health Problems
A healthy mouth is one that is clean (free from excess bacteria), functional, devoid of mercury fillings, metal crowns, root canals, and implants, and one that has healthy tissues (gums, cheeks, tongue). Here is list of potentially problematic dental conditions:
Silver tooth fillings are called amalgams. These fillings contain a significant amount of mercury, which is the most toxic metal on the planet. In spite of the “silver filling” controversy, mercury is not safe and escapes from fillings (especially when chewing). Mercury can then become widely distributed throughout the body where it stays for a long time, even if the fillings are replaced. Mercury tends to affect the nervous system. The International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT) has a protocol for the safe removal of these fillings. It is best to remove silver fillings when you are healthy.
Amalgam fillings are associated with diseases of the nervous system, heart arrhythmias, psychological disturbances (including depression), chronic headaches, immune system problems, thyroid issues, vision, and skin problems. There is plenty of science showing the problems with amalgam fillings.
Root canals can be a cause of ill health. You need a root canal when a tooth is dead and infected. So, the dentist removes the roots in the canals of the tooth in an attempt to try to save it. But it’s still a dead tooth with millions of tubules that can be a breeding ground for powerful anaerobic bacteria. If you have root canals, be sure your dentist monitors these regularly for possible infections. Not everyone can opt for extraction since it depends on personal health and the location of the tooth.
A crown (or cap) is needed in cases where a tooth has decayed so much that it would require a large filling to repair it. Most crowns are made in a dental lab to fit over a tooth. Crowns are generally porcelain-fused-to-metal (or PFM) and contain other metals including nickel, another potentially problematic metal. Many people have nickel allergies. If you need a crown, discuss a non-metallic option like ceramic or zirconia with your dentist.
A cavitation is a hole in the bone usually in an area where a tooth was previously extracted (and the bone did not fill in properly). This is an area of infection, inflammation, or necrosis (dead tissue) in the jawbone. The most common site for a cavitation is in the area of the wisdom teeth. Bacteria can flourish in these sites. Cavitations, while not commonly recognized by conventional dentists, may be a source of low-level or high-level stress on the entire body.
A tooth implant is a replacement for a missing tooth. Titanium or zirconia rods are placed into the jawbone where a tooth is missing. After the bone solidifies, a crown is placed on the part of the rod that protrudes from the gum. Are they safe? It depends on the health of the patient since these sites can also be breeding grounds for bacteria. Implants may not be a good choice for those who grind and clench (bruxism).
What Can You Do to Improve Your Oral Health?
Prevention is important, which is why hygiene is essential to good oral health. This is where it all begins. Keep these tips in mind to keep a healthy mouth:
- Brush and floss at least twice a day (or after each meal). An oral water irrigator after brushing is a great way to ensure all food is removed from between the teeth.
- Visit your dentist for a professional cleaning twice a year (or more if needed). I find that going three times a year makes each visit gentler and very effective. Cleanings are inexpensive, even if you don’t have insurance.
- Try “oil pulling” a few times a week before bed and after brushing and flossing. To do this, take one teaspoon of coconut oil and swish it around your mouth for 10 minutes. This can help decrease the bacteria and freshen your mouth prior to sleep. When you’ve completed 10 minutes, spit the oil into a cup or napkin and place it in the trash (avoid spitting it into the sink as it can clog your drain). Your mouth will feel moist and refreshed in the morning!
- Eat a healthy, whole foods diet. Your nutrition status is important for excellent oral health.
I love learning about dental health. Much of what I learned over the past 10 years were things that completely blew my mind. I have also witnessed this as part of my job at an integrative hospital, where dental health is a major part of a patient’s overall assessment. If you want to read a good book, I suggest Whole Body Dentistry by Mark Breiner, DDS. Be sure to read all the “dental detective stories” that are placed throughout the book.
Lastly, if you want extraordinary health please don’t skip your regular dental check-ups!