Why Yogurt (and Other Fermented Foods) May Help Keep Your Mouth Healthy

vintage milk adAsk someone to name a food associated with good dental health, and you’re apt to hear “dairy.” You can thank its calcium content and decades of advertising for that.

Calcium is one of the key minerals needed to keep tooth enamel strong. (Magnesium and phosphorous are the two other biggies.) And some research has suggested that it might play a role in maintaining healthy gums, as well.

But a new study in PLoS ONE suggests that it may not be the calcium at all but probiotics in fermented dairy products such as yogurt.

Researchers analyzed periodontal and nutritional data from over 6100 Korean adults. They found that those who ate less yogurt had more gum disease than others. Those who consumed less milk or calcium, on the other hand, didn’t exhibit more periodontal issues.

In conclusion, periodonitis was significantly associated with the less intake of yogurt among the Korean adults, but the calcium contained in yogurt is not likely to cause it.

What makes yogurt different, of course, is its probiotic content – helpful microbes that help defend against disease – and previous research appears to support this.

kombuchaOf course, yogurt is hardly the only source of probiotics. Fermented foods of all kinds can be wonderful additions to your diet. These include kombucha, kimchi, tempeh, lassi, sauerkraut, raw apple cider vinegar, kefir, miso, and fermented cod liver oil.

Naturally fermented foods have been proven to show many benefits in cultures around the world. According to one recent paper in Frontiers in Microbiology, for instance,

The highest longevity observed among the people of Okinawa prefecture in Japan is mostly due to their traditional and cultural foods such as natto, miso, tofu, shoyu, fermented vegetables, cholesterol-free, low-fat, and high bioactive-compounded foods in addition to active physical activity, sound environment, happiness and other several factors.

Probiotics can also be taken with prebiotics (a/k/a synbiotics) for an even bigger impact. According to research in the Journal of Medicine and Life,

It appears that synbiotics increase survival of probiotic bacteria, stimulating their growth in the intestinal tract and improving the balance of health-promoting bacteria.

Good dietary sources of prebiotics include raw asparagus, raw garlic, onion (both raw and cooked), raw dandelion greens, raw leeks, under-ripe bananas, raw chicory root, and raw Jerusalem artichokes. (Why so much raw? Cooking can break down a lot of the helpful elements in some prebiotic foods.)

Pro- and prebiotics can be an easy addition to your daily routine for improving oral and systemic health alike, physical and mental. Maybe consider grabbing a bottle of kombucha for your next holiday party rather than that bottle of wine.

Bad Breath: Why You’ve Got It & How to Get Rid of It

open mouthHear “bad breath” and chances are you can instantly think of a person or two with this problem – maybe even yourself.

It’s a common issue, after all. One new review of the science in Clinical Oral Investigations found that it afflicted more than 30% of participants – nearly one in three people. What’s more, those numbers seem to be on the rise.

Our results demonstrated that the estimated prevalence of halitosis was 31.8%, with high heterogeneity between studies. The results suggest a worldwide trend towards a rise in halitosis prevalence.

Why so much halitosis (the clinical term for bad breath)? It’s not just from eating stinky foods such as garlic, onions, and strong spices. In fact, most cases spring from oral conditions.

Although halitosis has multifactorial origins, the source of 90% cases is [issues in the] oral cavity such as poor oral hygiene, periodontal disease, tongue coat, food impaction, unclean dentures, faulty restorations, oral carcinomas, and throat infections.

The mouth provides ideal conditions for the growth of harmful bacteria. It’s dark, moist, and contains hard-to-reach, low-oxygen areas such as periodontal pockets in which these pathogens can thrive.

There are hundreds of bacterial species that live in even the cleanest mouth. Many are helpful. Some are harmful. And according to the paper quoted above,

most of them are capable to produce odorous compounds which can cause halitosis.

The answer, of course, starts with better hygiene: brushing (including your tongue), flossing, rinsing, and thoroughly cleaning any appliances or prosthetics you wear.

Essential oils such as cinnamon and lemongrass can be quite helpful in controlling oral bacteria, yeasts, and other pathogens (“bad bugs”). Such oils can be found in many natural mouthwashes, but you can also make your own at home quickly and easily.

That said, there are some cases in which bad breath is a sign of more significant issues that should be addressed by a dentist or physician. These include oral infections, respiratory problems, GI disease, metabolic conditions, and more.

If ramped up hygiene isn’t enough to help your breath, do talk with your healthcare providers.

More tips for taming bad breath

Image by Allsha Vargas

What’s All This about Activated Charcoal?

charcoalOf course, oil pulling is just one of a number of natural at-home health practices that more and more folks have been talking about. Another you may be hearing more about these days is activated charcoal. Claims about it range from instant teeth whitening to a good digestive cleanse.

But what do we know about it really?

We’re Not Talking Briquettes

When you hear “charcoal,” your thoughts probably turn to the stuff you might fuel your barbecue grill with. Activated charcoal has been treated with oxygen. This makes it more porous, which makes it more absorbent.

This is why it’s been a go-to treatment for overdose or poisoning. It absorbs toxins so they can’t be absorbed into the stomach.

A classic and frequently cited early demonstration with charcoal was the ingestion of a lethal dose of strychnine mixed with charcoal by Tovery before the 1831 French Academy of Medicine. Tovery suffered no ill effects from the strychnine because of the simultaneous ingestion of charcoal. Similarly, the American physician Hort, by administering oral charcoal, reportedly saved the life of a patient in 1834 who ingested mercury bichloride.

When used for acute poisoning, activated charcoal is given in extremely large doses. But in small doses, it can be used as a supplement.

Activated charcoal comes in a powder, liquid, or pill/capsule form. The powder is typically mixed with water for topical applications on teeth or as a face mask. The liquid and pill forms are typically ingested in small doses (along with large amounts of water) to help with digestion or to remove harmful toxins like mold from the body (yep, mold – in the body).

What’s Charcoal Good For?

A literature review in the Natural Medicine Journal found good or still unclear scientific evidence for activated charcoal’s use in treating conditions ranging from diarrhea to kidney disease. The author also mentions a range of other uses of the supplement based on tradition, hypotheses, or limited research. These include

Aging, asthma, blood disorders, blood purifier, bronchial asthma, deodorant, disease diagnosis, inflammatory skin conditions, irritable bowel syndrome, liver disorders, metabolic disorders, ulcerative colitis.

But it has its uses in dentistry, as well. For instance, mercury-safe dentists may give patients charcoal before and after removing a patient’s amalgam fillings to protect against any mercury that may accidentally be swallowed during the procedures. (Others use chlorella, a single-celled micro-algae that’s also effective for detox.)

It’s also something that some of our patients may be recommended as part of their formal detox regimen, as it binds heavy metals so well.

activated charcoal supplementIncreasingly, we also see people using it at home for teeth whitening – as has been done throughout history. In addition to removing stains, it may also improve oral pH and help keep oral flora in balance (supporting the helpful bacteria, fighting the harmful). Because of this, it’s also said to help tame bad breath, as well.

That said, if you have crowns, veneers, or other tooth-colored dental work, using charcoal can stain such restorations terribly. If you have any, cleaning with charcoal is not for you.

And if you’re thinking about taking activated charcoal as a supplement? Do consult a qualified integrative or naturopathic practitioner before you begin – particularly if you are taking other supplements or medications (including homeopathic ones), or if you are currently being treated for any health conditions. Even supplements can have bad interactions or may trigger troubling side effects.

How Oil Pulling Can Help You Keep a Healthy Smile

healthy smileTried oil pulling yet? The practice has gotten a lot of attention as an easy way to draw out toxins and improve your overall health – your oral health in particular.

Oil pulling isn’t only good at preventing oral infections, but can actively fight them as well. The oil pulls the infection (bacteria, toxins, and pus) out of the tissues, allowing the body to heal itself. Inflammation is quieted, gums stop bleeding, loose teeth tighten, and pain and sensitivity vanish. Teeth become whiter, and gums become pinker and healthier looking.

Indeed, research has consistently shown that oil pulling can reduce bacteria and plaque, reduce gingivitis (early stage gum disease), and improve bad breath – according to one study, as much as chlorhexidine, a common antimicrobial rinse.

A larger study got similar results among a larger group of participants. The authors thus concluded that “oil pulling using coconut oil could be an effective adjuvant procedure in decreasing plaque formation and plaque induced gingivitis.”

This traditional Indian practice has been around for over 3,000 years and hasn’t changed much since then. According to the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, the practice is claimed to cure much more than oral health ailments.

Oil pulling, in CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine), is a procedure that involves swishing oil in the mouth for oral and systemic health benefits. It is mentioned in the Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita where it is called Kavala or Gandusha, and is claimed to cure about 30 systemic diseases ranging from headache, migraine to diabetes and asthma. Oil pulling has been used extensively as a traditional Indian folk remedy for many years to prevent decay, oral malodor, bleeding gums, dryness of throat, cracked lips and for strengthening teeth, gums and the jaw.

The paper goes on to note the many preventative attributes of oil pulling.

Oil pulling is a powerful detoxifying Ayurvedic technique that has recently become very popular as a CAM remedy for many different health ailments. Using this method, surgery or medication could be prevented for a number of chronic illnesses. The oil therapy is preventative as well as curative. The exciting aspect of this healing method is its simplicity. Ayurveda advises oil gargling to purify the entire system; as it holds that each section of the tongue is connected to different organ such as to the kidneys, lungs, liver, heart, small intestines, stomach, colon, and spine, similarly to reflexology and TCM.

Coconut oil in particular is recommended due to its lauric acid content. This fatty acid is known for its antimicrobial qualities. (It’s also what keeps coconut oil solid at room temperature.)

Ready to give it a try? All you’ll need is some coconut oil. (Here’s a good guide to choosing a high-quality oil.) Put a tablespoon of the oil into your mouth, and as it begins to melt, start gently swishing it around, moving it over and through your teeth, under your tongue, against your cheeks.

coconut oilDo this for about 5 to 10 minutes to start – the longer, the better – eventually working up to 20 minutes of pulling at least a few days a week. (You can do it every day if you like.)

Simple as that.

Now, if you have an easily triggered gag reflex, you may find oil pulling challenging at first. If this is the case for you, start with a smaller amount of oil for a shorter amount of time, then gradually work up to the full tablespoon for the full 20 minutes. You may also find it easier to use sesame, sunflower, or another oil that’s liquid at room temperature.

Oil pulling should be done first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach and before you brush or floss.

Right: One thing oil pulling doesn’t do is replace brushing and flossing. Those still matter. A lot. But oil pulling is an easy way to take your home hygiene to the next level.

Images by Rupert Taylor-Price & Meal Makeover Moms

4 Books on the Mouth-Body Connection that Just Might Change Your Life

Woman reading bookMany who seek our services have immune system challenges. They’re looking for the most biocompatible materials and the least invasive approach to dentistry they can find. Others have nagging symptoms they – and their health care providers – have been unable to identify.

As a biological dental office, we believe the best solutions to nagging health issues require a comprehensive look at the whole person, not just the mouth. We recognize that medical doctors are trained to focus their attention on the body, minus the mouth. Yet current scientific research indicates the mouth can be a focal point for health issues.

This means, the more familiar you are with the mouth’s connection to your body, the more you can help yourself.

One way you can do so is through reading. So we offer up this short list of new books to help you navigate both the medical and the dental realms and bring them together into a cohesive whole.

Mirror of the Body: Your Mouth Reflects the Health of Your Whole Body by Dr. James Rota
If you’re concerned about the materials in your mouth, you’ll want to read this book for sure.

Though Dr. Rota had an inkling of mercury amalgam dangers when protestors first handed him a brochure on mercury’s toxicity, it wasn’t until faced with his own health crisis that he dug beneath the surface of this commonly placed material.

His book not only describes his own journey but looks at the politics behind dental associations and their assurances of safety to the public despite a lack of scientific evidence. It will encourage you to have more than a voice in your health care; it will encourage you to listen to your body.

Six-Foot Tiger, Three-Foot Cage: Take Charge of Your Health by Taking Charge of Your Mouth by Felix Liao, DDS
Using case studies from his patients, Dr. Liao showcases how the mouth and body relate. In doing so, he allows us to see how body symptoms can refer back to mouth issues. From posture, neck and muscle pain, and headaches to numbness, fatigue, sleep disorders, dizziness, and more, your mouth may be the culprit.

This powerful book gives you the tools to

  • Understand the role your mouth plays in your overall health.
  • Recognize that an impaired mouth can lead to health conditions that often defy easy diagnosis.
  • Seek holistic or biological support.
  • Think of dental care as part of whole body care.

book jacketsThe Holistic Dental Matrix: How Your Teeth Control Your Health and Well-Being by Dr. Nicholas Meyer
If you’ve ever wanted to speak up to a health care provider but didn’t feel you knew enough to actually do so, this book will empower you. By book’s end, you’ll realize that no one can know your body like you do. Sure, doctors and dentists have specific training, but many fall back on methods that are, at best, one-size-fits-all – despite the fact that each of us is unique, from what we eat to how we think, the exposures we face daily, the stress we encounter, the foreign materials placed in our bodies, and more.

Not only does Dr. Meyer address the systemic effects of dental materials such as mercury and fluoride, he delves into some of the most challenging dental situations and how they can impact overall health.

The visual resources here – including meridian charts, diagrams, photos, and resource pages – promote a deeper understanding of the material. This particular book will help you go to your next dental office equipped to be your own best advocate.

Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America by Mary Otto

Medical journalist Mary Otto is the only author in our selection who is not a dentist. But her investigative experience provides a well-rounded approach to oral health as it relates to overall health.

From a biological perspective, what we find particularly interesting about this book is how Otto illuminates the distinctly negative effect that the separation of dentistry from general medical care has had. Like those of us who work from a holistic or biological perspective, she notes the devastating and wide-reaching effects of this segregation. But her perspective goes far beyond the individual desire for well-being, extending to the role dentistry plays in societal health, as well. Otto’s book encourages you to look beyond your own well-being to see the bigger picture.

Image by Paul Bence

Breastfeeding and Dental Decay in Children

After years of hearing the myth that breastfeeding children is associated with early childhood caries, finally some scientific vindication.

breastfeeding babyA recent study in Acta Paediatrica shows that breastfeeding up to 12 months of age is not associated with an increased risk of decay and may, in fact, offer some protections compared with formula.

Drawing from the conclusions of 63 previously published papers, this broad meta-analysis evaluated studies of those who breastfed with those who did not breastfeed. It included studies of those who were still breastfeeding after 12 months as compared with those who were not. All results were pooled together. The participants from all studies were predominately conducted in high and middle income countries, with only eight studies from low income countries.

While breastfeeding appears to be a benefit up to 12 months, the study did go on to note that breastfeeding beyond that – a time when the first teeth erupt – had a higher risk of caries. But it appears this may have nothing to do with breastfeeding and everything to do with the child’s habits as they get older. These include

  • Prolonged breastfeeding, including feeding during sleep.
  • Foods and drinks apt to promote decay.
  • Inadequate oral hygiene.

Consider bringing your breastfed baby to the dentist at 12 months of age for an evaluation. We can support your breastfeeding choice and give you some take home tips on how to maintain your child’s good dental health.

Image by myllissa

Building Trust in the Mind-Body Connection

senior woman sitting Our body talks to us. Got a sore back and a stiff neck? Could be your body’s way of saying, “Don’t sit hunched over the computer so long.” That stomach acid coming up your esophagus at night? Your body saying, “Hello, how many times must I tell you not to lay down right after you eat?” And more troubling, unexplainable fatigue and a gnawing feeling about it.

But it doesn’t end there.

A recent study shows our active listening to the body’s conversation goes into our psyche where it gets turned into feelings about our health. And researchers have determined that those feelings may have greater implications for our health outcomes – including mortality – than even medical tests do.

Recycling data collected a decade ago from 1500 participants gathered for a study on the relationship between stress and health, researchers evaluated their blood tests for active oral herpesvirus and matched the results to a self-assessment questionnaire.

Oral herpesvirus was selected because most people are exposed to at least one species of these viruses in early life. Herpesvirus is also a marker of decreased cellular immunity and one that advances inflammation in the body.

To be clear, having a herpesvirus “doesn’t mean you’re sick,” explained one of the study authors in a press release.

It’s probably been dormant in your cells for most of your life. But because it reactivates at a cellular level and prompts the immune system to fight it, it becomes a great marker of how the system is working.

And what did the researchers find?

That poor self-rated health was associated with more reactivation of these latent herpesviruses, which was associated with higher inflammation, and we know those two things are associated with morbidity and mortality, as well as some cancers, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

This study is a powerful reminder of the mind-body connection, which is just as important to dental care as medical care. It underscores the importance of our listening deeply to what patients say when sharing their symptoms.

While clinical tests can measure physical, physiological or biochemical data, they can’t speak much to what the patient is experiencing.

Tests don’t pick up subtle markers of disease – symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, sleep disturbances, degree of discomfort, and how often symptoms appear. For that information, direct input from the patient is required.

Too often patients share with us how they’ve seen multiple dentists who looked at them like they’re crazy when they told them they started getting sick after mercury was placed. They consulted doctors, answered questions, took various tests. “Nothing” was found.

When doctors and dentists can’t explain it, patients may leave those offices feeling it’s all in their head. But for all of you have ever felt that way – or feel it now – you you aren’t crazy.

You were right. You had feelings of disease. We encourage you to trust that. And to keep trusting that.

And seek care from a biological dentist or integrative physician who understands that; who has the right knowledge and technology to evaluate potential causes of your problems; who will work with you to map a path towards healing.

Image by Jason Parks

Just What Is Biological Dentistry Anyway?

Probiotic Support for Your Mouth’s Very Own Rebel Alliance

If you were to stand in front of a mirror and look deep inside your mouth, you might see some interesting things. But what you wouldn’t see are the 800 or so different types of bacteria that call your mouth home.

wide open mouthIn fact, it’s the most diverse microbial population in your body. Yep, your mouth has more kinds of bacteria than your gut! Why? Your mouth is dark and moist, has a variety of surface textures, and is constantly fed with nutrients.

In other words, it’s the perfect breeding ground.

If you’re icked out by that, thinking all microbes are the “bad guys,” think again. In our attempt to search and destroy all bacteria on our bodies, in our bodies, and in our homes, we’ve virtually ignored how beneficial so many microbes really are. Like the Rebel Alliance, they stand vigilant in an attempt to keep us healthy. And while most microbiome studies currently focus on gut flora, we might do well to remember, the mouth is actually the start of our gastrointestinal tract.

By way of digestion, your mouth is connected to your gut. That’s one reason why maintaining a diverse population of helpful bacteria in your mouth helps maintain whole body health. Research on the relationship between chronic inflammatory diseases and gum disease already proves this.

Helpful and harmful bacteria are always in relationship with each other. Like any relationship – nothing personal here – coexisting isn’t always easy. And as part of a complex ecosystem, your beneficial oral flora must not only forge relationships with each other. If they’re to survive and hold down the health fort, they must also establish relationships with your gut, skin, and urogenital tract bacteria, too.

Providing your body with probiotics – living, beneficial microbes – helps those invisible troopers bloom with healthy oral flora. In a balanced relationship with other constituents, they work as a natural defense system in your body.

The most common – and most commonly studied – strains are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Both are considered part of the normal human microbiota. They’re even present in breast milk.

But just because you’ve been weaned doesn’t mean you can’t reap the benefits of these well-studied probiotics and hundreds of others. For one, you can eat foods that contain them. These include

  • Yogurt.
  • Kefir.
  • Kimchi.
  • Fermented pickles.
  • Kombucha.
  • Sauerkraut.
  • Miso.
  • Raw cheese.
  • Buttermilk.
  • Fermented cod liver oil.
  • Tempeh.
  • Raw apple cider vinegar.

There are also a variety of supplements available to support a healthy balance of oral flora. A good biological dentist or naturopathic physician can recommend products best suited to your individual needs.

As for the oral health benefits of including probiotics in your diet? Here’s a sample of what the scientific literature has reported:

  • Improved gingival health.
  • Decreased gum bleeding.
  • Decreased inflammatory markers in saliva.
  • Decreased pocket depth in high risk groups such as smokers.
  • Reduced oral candida (yeast) counts in some populations.
  • Reduced counts of cavity-causing bacteria in saliva.
  • Reduced halitosis (bad breath).

How will YOU up your intake of probiotics to help keep both mouth and body at their healthiest?

Image by Pietro Garrone

What Are We Talking About When We Talk Remineralization?

Last week, we looked at an unnatural – not to mention fluoride-laced – way to “heal” caries. But what about natural ways?

Microcaries 101

Before we get to your body’s amazing capability to heal itself, we’d like you introduce you to your teeth.

layers of toothEach tooth is made up of layers, The layer you see is the enamel. It’s the hardest layer – the hardest tissue in your whole body, in fact. You can think of it as your tooth’s defense layer.

Underneath is a softer layer, the dentin. Below that is the pulp chamber. It houses the tooth’s nerve and blood supply.

Caries is the clinical name for what you know as tooth decay. So when we talk about “microcaries,” we’re talking about tiny areas of decalcified enamel. That’s the doing of bacteria – and the acids they make, etching the tooth but not going through the enamel. They affect only the surface.

Once decay penetrates the dentin, a filling is usually in order. For while you can grow new dentin, you can’t grow new enamel. (Once the teeth are grown, we lose the cells required to make it.)

Microcaries are the beginning of a decay process. Left to its own devices, the decay will progress. But it can also be halted. It may also be reversed.

Remineralization 101

healthy teethWhile there are some dentists who feel it right to aggressively treat early surface decay, we generally believe – depending on your dental history and personal habits – your body is able to remineralize these acid-etched areas.

Importantly, remineralization doesn’t mean you grow new enamel. Rather, it means your body – via saliva – lays down new minerals in the etched area, which may protect it from advancing decay.

But like so many things, the likelihood of this happening depends largely on you. There are three keys to address:

Diet
Diet is key to overall wellness, including teeth. Research indicates a few especially important factors when it comes to your teeth’s remineralizing potential:

  • Get enough minerals in your diet, especially calcium and phosphorous.
  • Include fat soluble vitamins, particularly D3.
  • Ensure the bioavailability of nutrients by eating whole foods and dairy products that give your body the best chance at absorbing minerals.
  • Limit processed foods, sugar and diet beverages that deplete minerals.

Routine Dental Checkups
Routine dental exams and cleanings can prevent small problems from becoming big ones. Catching caries early gives you a better chance at remineralizing – and an opportunity to save dollars in the long run. Stay in touch!:

  • Schedule cleanings at least twice a year.
  • Schedule an exam at least once a year.

Effective Home Care, with Special Attention to Cleaning Between Your Teeth
Good home care is for everyone but particularly important for those dealing with decay. Your hygienist will coach you on the proper tools and techniques for making you’re your efforts are effective. After all, it’s what you do at home – not what we do in the office – that largely determines your mouth’s overall health.

  • Clean your teeth in front of a mirror to ensure proper technique.
  • Brush, brush, brush! Floss, floss, floss! Floss first if that will make sure you don’t “forget” to do it. (In fact, some research suggests that flossing before you brush is actually more effective.)
  • Use interdental or “proxy” brushes to clean hard to reach areas between teeth and at the gum line.

Our goal? Empower YOU to keep the area clean and to create a healthy mouth environment that enables remineralization to happen—without fluoride. Now that’s an alternative!

Photography by dozenist