Why You Need to Tend to Your Teeth: Meet the Bacteria in Your Mouth

S. mutansSome are good guys; others, not so much. Good oral health means maintaining a proper balance of good to bad – and not just bacteria, but fungi and other microbial critters that hang out in even the cleanest of mouths. (In fact, recent research has shown that the yeast Candida interacts with the bacterium S. mutans to create especially strong oral biofilms [plaque].)

Unfortunately, those bad guys don’t necessarily stay confined to the mouth. And that’s the beginning of the link between gum disease and other inflammatory health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and more.

This excellent short video will help you visualize what’s happening in your mouth when the balance is upset and how bacteria get from there to other parts of your body:

Also

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

Your Mouth Is the Gateway to Your Body

In honor of October’s designated status as National Dental Hygiene Month, we’d like to share an excellent video we recently ran across – “Gums to Guts: Periodontal Medicine,” Professor Mark Ryder’s talk on oral health and its relationship to the body’s systematic health.

It not only offers great visuals and useful info on markers of health and disease; it supports the importance of seeing the mouth as an integrated part of the body, not a separate feature.
 

 
If it’s been awhile since your last hygiene visit and exam, remember this key message: The mouth is a gateway to the body and has much to do with what’s going on in your body. Good oral health not only supports good body health and wellness; it’s a key factor in it.

Your Mouth Is Trying to Tell You Something

woman biting moneyDid you know that paying attention to the signals your mouth is giving you can result in saving money on healthcare?

A 2014 analysis of insurance company data showed that treating gum disease can improve overall health and lessen complications with other medical conditions. Medical costs were as much as 74% lower for those who had their gum disease treated.

As material from Cigna puts it,

Every dollar spent on preventive dental care could save $8 to $50 in restorative and emergency treatments – and potentially more in additional types of medical treatment.

* * *

Our nationally published study supports an association between treated gum disease and lower medical costs for individuals with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke. When compared with patients undergoing initial treatment for gum disease, patients who were previously treated for gum disease and were receiving maintenance care had reduced medical costs.

Dental & Medical Integration

Routine dental care helps address minor problems before they become major. Program outcomes from studies show that the integration of good preventative dental care and visits with a primary care doctor positively impacts medical health for diabetes, heart disease and stroke. One report from Aetna found that an integrated approach

  • Lowered medical costs by an average of 17%.
  • Improved diabetes control by 45 percent.
  • Reduced the need for major and basic dental services by almost half.
  • Required 3.5% fewer hospital admissions.

Inflammatory Concerns

As a biological dental practice, we’re excited about the possibility of integrating dentistry and medicine. We see it as a promising change in healthcare. When it comes to your health, developing a rich exchange between physicians and dentists has always been the ideal. We know that what we see in your mouth is connected to your entire body’s system.

Oftentimes, your mouth will give the first signs of inflammation in the body. Gum disease, or a tooth abscess, will create inflammation because the body is responding to a bacterial assault, either localized or systemic.

When these acute issues go unchecked, inflammation can become chronic. Chronic inflammation is a potentially dangerous shift because it affects your body in a systemic way, contributing to or exacerbating heart disease, stroke and diabetes — three of the leading causes of death in the US.

Numerous studies have shown the same pathogenic bacteria found in clients diagnosed with gum disease have been found in the blood clots of patients who have suffered a heart attack. This correlation suggests that these oral pathogens can contribute to heart disease and stroke.

Type 2 diabetes is another inflammatory disease that is closely linked to mouth health. One study of nearly 3000 patients found that 93% of those with periodontal disease are at a heightened risk of diabetes. According to the study’s author, Dr. Shiela Strauss of NYU,

In light of these findings, the dental visit could be a useful opportunity to conduct an initial diabetes screening, an important step in identifying those patients who need follow-up testing to diagnose the disease.

Dentists are the only doctors who can diagnose – and treat – gum disease. But for best results, YOU take an ACTIVE role. Prevention is not only a choice; it’s also a vital component of reaching personal health goals — especially if they include saving money and staying out of the hospital.

Image by Tax Credits

Flossing Matters – & Flossing Effectively Matters Even More

floss tied around toothBrushing without flossing is like washing only from your toes to your rib cage. You wouldn’t ignore your shoulders, neck, face, or hair each time you shower. Yet many routinely clean less than 70% of the total surface area of their teeth, ignoring the in-between places where pathogens especially thrive.

Flossing is, in a word, essential – and critical to your overall health. But you can take it too far – as one Wisconsin woman recently found out the hard way.

According to LiveScience, the woman had developed a “nasty” and painful bacterial infection in a knee she’d had replaced five years earlier. The bacterium responsible? Streptococcus gordonii – a microbe commonly found in the mouth. It appeared that the “vigorous” flossing program the woman had begun was so aggressive, it damaged her gums.

Just as with a cut on your finger, tiny cuts in your gum tissue give pathogens access to your bloodstream, allowing them to spread throughout the body – including, as in this case, the knee. That it was an implant made it even more prone to infection since implants are not protected by the immune system.

The bacterium involved is one that has also been linked to bacterial endocarditis (inflammation of the membrane lining the heart). According to a 2012 study, S. gordonii can imitate blood-clotting proteins.

This activates platelets (cells that are found in blood and involved in clotting) and causes them to clump inside blood vessels. The resulting blood clots encase the bacteria, protecting the invader from the immune system and from antibiotics used to treat infection.

Platelet clumping can result in growths on the heart valves (endocarditis) or blood vessel inflammation that can block blood supply to the heart or brain.

S. gordonii is not the only pathogen that’s been linked with systemic health conditions. For instance, P. gingivalis – one of the main types of bacteria involved in periodontal (gum) disease – has been found in conditions as varied as heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. A recent paper in the Journal of Oral Microbiology focused on the mechanisms of this pathogen with special respect to its role in cardiovascular diseases.

The solution here is not to avoid flossing. Far from it. Flossing is necessary to keep pathogens like S. gordonii and P. gingivalis in check. But as the case of the Wisconsin woman shows, aggressive flossing doesn’t equal effective flossing.

What is effective? Read on…

Image by Nicole Hanusek

A Naturopathic View on the Tooth-Body Connection

A Holistic Approach to Prevention: 9 Keys to a Naturally Healthy Smile

smiling womanA couple weeks ago, we left off by noting that while there are excellent, safe alternatives to mercury amalgam, even better is to avoid needing to repair teeth at all.

Indeed, smart dentistry begins with prevention.

But prevention is much more than just brushing for two minutes twice daily and flossing once a day. It’s not just trying to minimize damage with interventions such as fluoride and sealants. It’s a whole slate of habits that support naturally healthy smiles for a lifetime. Some of them may surprise you – but probably not #1 on the list:

  1. Eat real food. For oral and systemic health alike, good nutrition is critical. Your teeth – and gums and the bony structure supporting them – need an array of vitamins and minerals to stay strong. The key nutrients are vitamins D and K, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc and other trace minerals. Antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E are likewise important for periodontal health.

    Good mineral intake is especially important to help replace the minerals your teeth lose every day – to remineralize them on an ongoing basis.

    Eating a varied diet based on whole – rather than processed – foods generally assures you’ll get all the nutrients you need without the things you don’t need, such as synthetic additives, preservatives, flavors and colors, as well as a lot of added sugar. Local, organic and sustainable is best. (Here’s one resource for finding such foods in your area.) If going completely organic puts too much of a strain on your budget, resources such as EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” list can help you prioritize your purchases. (For some great tips on eating healthy on a budget, see this post over at The Art of Simple.)

  2. Drink water. Water is essential to everything your body does. From breathing, to transferring minerals throughout your body, to helping your kidneys filter blood, to helping your muscles move, water is involved all of your body’s metabolic actions.

    That means we lose water every day, too, and must replace it. We get some water through food, but most of it, we have to drink. As for how much, the general rule is half your body weight in ounces daily (e.g., 75 ounces for someone who weighs 150 pounds).

    One thing that’s not essential – in fact, not wanted at all – is added fluoride. If your water supply is fluoridated and you can’t afford a reverse osmosis filtering system to remove the fluoride, look to buy non-fluoridated bottled drinking water.

  3. Exercise. Scientific research has shown that exercise helps reduce risk of periodontal disease, among other conditions. It also lowers your risk of early death. So get up and get moving! After all, your body was designed to move.

    And let it be fun! Nowhere does it say you have to pay a gym membership or use fancy machines in order to be fit. The only “machine” you need is your body. (Motivation and commitment help a lot, too.) Go for a brisk walk with a friend and catch up on the news. Go for a run and see all the flowers in bloom. Kick a soccer ball around with your kids. Go hiking with your spouse. Play tennis with a co-worker. Attend yoga or tai chi classes.

    The possibilities are limitless!

    Still strive for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week, plus two days of muscle-strengthening activity. A combination of cardio and weight training may give you the best results in helping to lose weight, build muscle, and be healthier.

  4. If you clench or grind your teeth, seek help. Bruxism can place a lot of stress on your teeth, causing headaches and other pain, as well as damage your teeth. Eventually, it can lead to TMJ damage or dysfunction. Fortunately, treatments are available, including use of fitted night guards and other oral appliances.
  5. Reduce stress. Chronic stress is a common trigger for bruxism and a major contributor to a host of health problems, including inflammatory conditions such as gum disease, heart disease and stroke. No matter if you’re a parent, a working professional, or college student, stress will find you, and how you deal with that stress makes all the difference. Taking time for yourself to do what you love or spend time with loved ones, to get some exercise, meditate or pray, or simply relax – such things can help keep stress levels in check. There are also numerous stress management techniques you can learn and use on a daily basis to face challenges and remain resilient.
  6. If you snore loudly and often, seek help. Snoring is a sign that you’re not getting enough air during sleep. Often, this is due to the tongue or excess tissues around the top of the throat falling back as you relax, partially blocking the airway. In such cases, a simple oral appliance may be able to offer relief – and a better night’s sleep.

    But snoring can also be a sign of a greater problem: sleep apnea. People with this condition actually stop breathing for brief periods repeatedly through the night. It can be deadly. A sleep study – either in a lab or with a take-home device – is needed to properly diagnose this condition. Once we know what the problem is, we can choose the best solution among the number of options available. In cases of mild to moderate apnea, an oral sleep appliance may be enough to correct the problem.

  7. Clean dental appliances regularly. If you wear a partial, retainer, removable dental work or use any kind of oral appliance, be sure to clean it regularly to avoid bacterial build up. There are cleaning products available, but often baking soda and peroxide will do just fine.
  8. Live tobacco-free. Smoking might make you look like a rebel – but only until you start losing teeth, as most smokers will over time. Simply, the gum disease and bone loss that smoking aggravates means less support for the teeth. In fact, smokers are 4.5 times more likely to lose teeth than non-smokers – but that risk drops significantly after quitting. (More.)

    Chew is scarcely better. Most are aware of the threat of oral cancer, but those who use smokeless tobacco also have a higher risk of caries and gum recession, not to mention stained teeth, bad breath and a dulled sense of taste and smell.

  9. Visit your dentist regularly. The dentist isn’t just someone to go to when you’ve got a toothache or other oral problem. Regular exams and cleanings are key to maintaining good oral health. If your teeth and gums are in good shape, twice yearly visits are fine. If you have periodontal problems, more frequent visits are recommended – as often as every three months, depending on the severity of your condition.

Image by Ana_J