Did you know that a knowledgeable dentist can spot early signs of an endocrine disorder just by looking in the mouth?
Endocrine disorders are common in today’s population, particularly among women. And while there are always other factors involved, the root cause often involves the function – or lack thereof – of the thyroid gland. This little gland hugs your trachea, just above your collarbone.
Yet as small as it is, it plays an integral role in every single bit of everything that goes on in your body! The thyroid itself regulates all of your cellular metabolism; your energy, how you grow, heal and regenerate, how you process food into energy, how you sleep, everything.
It’s also part of a critical feedback loop to the hypothalamus and pituitary glands that live in your brain, which pretty much control all of your hormonal (endocrine) functions. Reproductive, adrenal and immune function, even your blood pressure and central nervous system depend on this glandular collaboration.
One thing the thyroid craves is the trace mineral iodine, which is abundant in sea foods and vegetables such as seaweed, spirulina and shellfish. Inland folks used to get most of their iodine from wheat, as it was commonly used to process flour (more on that in a minute), but nowadays, it’s added to table salt. It’s also found in raw milk, butter, eggs and cheeses (particularly from grass fed cows), pineapples, and dark green vegetables grown in good, healthy soil.
Yet experts suspect that more than 40% of the world’s population is suffering from iodine deficiency, particularly women experiencing hormonal changes through pregnancy and menopause, when the hormonal balance in the body is fluctuating.
In pregnancy, severely low levels of iodine can cause “cretinism” or mental retardation coupled with physical deformities, as well as deafness, and other forms of mental illness. Iodine deficiencies in early childhood stunt the development of the central nervous system, can result in low IQ and lead to ADHD. During menopause, iodine deficiency can increase the risk for breast cancer, which appears in higher rates in areas where goiters are common, particularly around the Great Lakes and the central United States, where access to seafood is minimal.
Iodine Deficiency Means Thyroid Problems
Thyroid malfunction can lead to periodontal disease, and lousy oral hygiene can tax the thyroid. It makes sense: The thyroid sits right below the mouth and throat.
Those suffering from thyroid conditions may experience recurrent gum bleeding, easy bruising, and chronic fatigue. Hypothyroid patients have capillary blood supply alterations in gum tissues. Those suffering from thyroid issues also have enhanced periodontal bone loss as tooth- supporting alveolar bone is less sensitive to hormonal signals.
The mouth has many ways of showing us that the thyroid needs help. Common signs include an enlarged tongue, a distorted sense of taste, delayed tooth eruption, poor periodontal health, altered tooth structure and delayed wound healing.
General symptoms of iodine deficiency are vague and often diagnosed as any number of diseases, but all can ultimately be traced back to the thyroid. Symptoms like weight gain or loss, fatigue, weakness, anxiety, infertility, skin discoloration, hair loss, depression, irritable bowel syndrome and muscle cramps can all be signs of hypothyroidism.
How Did We Get This Way?
Remember how we mentioned that we used to get iodine from wheat because it was used to process flour? It’s not anymore. Instead, bromide (potassium bromate) came to be used instead, because it makes bread prettier and doughier. Yet bromide and its chemical cousins fluoride and chlorine compete with iodine for cellular receptor sites, blocking the body’s absorption of iodine. Bromides are also present in plastics, sodas, medicines and pesticides.
Fluoride and chlorine are highly recognizable as common additives to our water supply. Multiple studies have been done outlining fluoride’s negative impact on human health, yet it is a commonplace chemical in our society. But you already know how we feel about fluoride.
4 Ways to Take Good Care of Your Thyroid
- Avoid big brand breads, all sodas and as much plastic as possible to reduce bromide exposure.
- Choose organic dairy from grass-fed animals and organic vegetables for their higher iodine content. Incorporate more iodine-rich foods in your diet.
- Prepare “goitrogenic” foods thoughtfully – things like raw cabbage, spinach and soy products, which can inhibit thyroid function. Cook your spinach, ferment your cabbage into sauerkraut and opt for fermented soy products such as miso and tempeh.
- Use a water filtration system to absorb fluoride and chlorine from your drinking water.
Hypothyroidism graphic by Mikael Häggström, via Wikimedia Commons