Dental Health and Nutrition

Dental Health and Nutrition

QUOTE


We all know we should be brushing and flossing our teeth every day.  When we’re younger, we learn that if we don’t maintain these good oral habits, we will get cavities.  As we get older, we learn that not only do cavities occur, but that our gums and jaw bone that hold our teeth in place begin to become compromised, as well, and oral diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis occur.  The gums bleed, usually when we’re brushing our teeth.  The teeth begin to crack and disintegrate when we chew food.  Our gums begin to recede and pockets (spaces between our gum and teeth) form.  The teeth loosen in our mouth.  The jaw bone that our teeth are attached to begins to disintegrate, and teeth are extracted.  Eventually, we wind up with false teeth (dentures) in our mouth.

The Nutrition Connection (Part 1)

But this is also one of the reasons why it’s so important to eat right – there are foods (like soda) that will have a negative impact on dental health, and there are foods (like fruits and veggies) that will have a positive impact on dental health.  In fact, it is what we’re eating, how much of what we’re eating, and the frequency of our drinking habits that plays a huge role in dental health, as this will change the pH (acid/base balance) in the mouth.

It is also important to drink water as water will help to wash away food particles so that they won’t adhere to teeth.  Water will also help to neutralize acids.  There are also nutritional programs that include supplementation (health-promoting foods too, of course) that can help with all of the above (see Nutritional Dental Health Programs).  In addition, as we’ll see below, being overweight can also impact dental health, so losing weight – holistically and healthfully – will also play a huge role in improving dental health.  If you smoke, here’s another incentive to quit smoking, as smoking compromises the tissue (and health) of your gums.

Through this whole “journey” of deteriorating dental health, we have been instructed on dental hygiene – that’s assuming you have a good dentist who is instructing you on dental home care, and making sure you have hygienic care  —  but no one has ever mentioned the connection between nutrition and oral health.  Furthermore, no one has mentioned the fact that having poor oral health can be an indication of poor health elsewhere in the body, and that the reverse is also true –  poor health elsewhere in the body impacts the health of your teeth and gums — and that there’s something you can do about it through nutrition.

 

Cavities, Gingivitis, and Periodontal Disease

Dental caries (cavities) occur when food and liquid containing sugar (especially soda!) stick to the teeth, enabling plaque to form  — a sticky, slimy substance composed mostly of bacteria.  Bacteria produces acid, and the acid breaks down the enamel on your teeth, causing cavities.  If plaque is left unattended, it begins to calcify (harden) forming tartar, the bacterial growth proliferates to the gums, and gingivitis results.  Gums become inflamed.  They look red, swollen and bleed when pressed or when teeth are brushed.  This is when pockets (space between the gums and your teeth) form creating an area in which bacteria can colonize, causing periodontitis.

Periodontitis, inflammation of the gums, detailed illustration

Periodontitis, inflammation of the gums, detailed illustration

Periodontal disease is a separate disease from gingivitis, caused by different bacteria.  It is a progressive disease which causes loss of bone around the teeth and the destruction of the ligaments that attach the roots of the teeth to the underlying bone.  Eventually, teeth will need extraction, until you have none or very little teeth left and partial or full dentures are needed.  This is not the end of the story, however.  Dentures – while needed – create problems.  They can irritate the gums resulting in soreness in the mouth, making dentures uncomfortable and sometimes impossible to use.

That’s why it’s so important to brush and floss your teeth every day at home.  Doing so will help to prevent the food and sugary liquids from sticking to the teeth.  However, tartar cannot be removed by brushing and flossing – a dental hygienist is needed for that.

The Nutrition Connection (Part 1)

But this is also one of the reasons why it’s so important to eat right – there are foods (like soda) that will have a negative impact on dental health, and there are foods (like fruits and veggies) that will have a positive impact on dental health.  In fact, it is what we’re eating, how much of what we’re eating, and the frequency of our drinking habits that plays a huge role in dental health, as this will change the pH (acid/base balance) in the mouth.

It is also important to drink water as water will help to wash away food particles so that they won’t adhere to teeth.  Water will also help to neutralize acids.  There are also nutritional programs that include supplementation (health-promoting foods too, of course) that can help with all of the above (see Nutritional Dental Health Programs).  In addition, as we’ll see below, being overweight can also impact dental health, so losing weight – holistically and healthfully – will also play a huge role in improving dental health.  If you smoke, here’s another incentive to quit smoking, as smoking compromises the tissue (and health) of your gums.

Impacts of Dental Health on the Body

Losing our teeth, however, (as if that weren’t bad enough) is not the only impact oral health has on the body.  The research on this keeps mounting.  Studies suggest that periodontal disease may be associated with various systemic conditions, including liver cirrhosis, cardiovascular disease (including stroke, myocardial infarction, peripheral vascular disease, abdominal aortic aneurysm, coronary heart disease and cardiovascular death),  hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia (high cholesterol), kidney disease, and more. (SAGE Open Med, 2015 Sep 9; 3:2050312115601122. doi: 10.1177/2050312115601122; J Contemp Dent Pract. 2013 Mar 1;14(2):179-82; Quintessence Int. 2011 Apr; 42(4):345-8; BMJ Open. 2016 Jan 14;6(1):e009870. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2015-009870; Circulation. 2016 Jan 13. pii: CIRCULATIONAHA.115.020869; Ann Periodontol. 2001 Dec;6(1):197-208).

 

The reason for this (in a nutshell):  when gums are inflamed and broken, harmful bacteria can enter the bloodstream more easily, leading to other chronic health problems.

In addition, apparently gum disease doesn’t just signal inflammation; it also increases inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation contributes to coronary artery disease and other chronic health problems. Interestingly, the same bacteria that colonize our gums have also been found in arterial-wall plaque.

map

Pathway showing periodontal infection leading to cardiovascular disease (J. Oral Maxillofac. Pathol., 2011 May-Aug; 15(2); 144-147 dio: 10.4103/0973-029X84477) (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3329699/)

Being Overweight Impacts Dental Health

Obesity is one of the major risk factors for oral disease.  The results of studies on periodontitis confirm the relationship between the values of body mass index (BMI) and the prevalence of periodontal diseases. Adipose tissue (fat) is an active endocrine organ and it performs many important functions in the body, such as thermal isolation and protection, storage, and secretion. Many cytokines (inflammatory compounds secreted by the immune system which have an effect on other cells) are secreted proportionally to the amount of fat present and are actively involved in the metabolism of the whole system, including the functioning of the immune system. Therefore, obesity may alter the response of the host to the antigens derived from bacterial plaque, and thus cause disturbances in the inflammatory response in the course of periodontal disease.  (Cent Eur J Immunol. 2015;40(2):201-5. doi: 10.5114/ceji.2015.52834. Epub 2015 Aug 3).

This all means that higher than normal levels of inflammation in the body occur as a result of being overweight, as well as from periodontitis.  This “out of control” inflammatory response stresses our immune system, compromising our ability to fight invading organisms, leaving us at risk for those invading organisms to flourish and for our health, including our oral health, to decline.

In addition, this correlation between obesity and inflammation is why obesity is the second biggest risk factor for inflammation in the mouth.  This includes the development of  lipomas (a tumor-like mass of fat) in the oral cavity.

People who are overweight are also at greater risk for diabetes, and diabetes, in turn, is associated with poor oral health.

Other Health Considerations Associated with Dental Health

 There is emerging evidence to support the existence of a two-way relationship between diabetes and periodontitis, with diabetes increasing the risk for periodontitis, and periodontal inflammation negatively affecting glycemic control (the amount of sugar present in the blood).  This means that oral health should be a part of diabetes management.   (Diabetologia. 2012 Jan; 55(1): 21–31).

Certain data showed clear relationship between osteoporosis and periodontal disease, and osteoporosis is considered as one of the risk factors for periodontal bone loss. (Fogorv Sz. 2002 Apr;95(2):49-54).

Our risk of periodontal disease goes up as we age. It’s not clear what exactly causes oral disease with age. Theories include wear and tear on teeth/gums, medication use, financial changes (leading to less preventive treatment), other chronic diseases associated with oral health, and/or immunological changes.  But the longer we maintain good oral health, the better our quality of life will be.

What is clear is that taking good care of our teeth and gums at every age is important to our overall health.  As discussed above, this includes good dental hygienic care and it also includes good nutrition.

The Nutrition Connection (Part 2)

In addition to eating right, dietary supplements can also be very helpful in achieving good dental health.  From a nutrition perspective, when we think about oral health, we think about supporting the health of the tooth structure, mucosal/connective tissue, immune system, periodontal ligaments, and the epithelium with minerals like calcium (the teeth are made mostly of calcium), phosphorus, and zinc.  Protein, essential fatty acids, and vitamins A, C,  D, and B-complex can also play a role in promoting the healthy development of teeth, bones, and gums, as well as helping with immune system function and modulating the inflammatory response.

There are some strains of probiotics that may be helpful in reducing the risk for the formation of cavities as they help to maintain the proper bacterial balance in the mouth.  This helps to keep the pH level in the mouth above 5.5 (non-acid forming), suppressing the growth of bad bacteria in the oral cavity.

Herbs like golden seal root, echinacea, and ginger root show promise in reducing bacteria and/or in reducing inflammation.  There are others, as well.

Customizing a Program to You

Although there are many foods and supplements that can help in achieving good oral (as well as total body) health, nutritional needs are unique to every individual.  An assessment of your nutritional status is needed.   We use many different evaluation methods to design a program specifically for you.  Once a program has been designed for you, I’m here to guide you to health. This means that as you begin to implement your plan, you will probably encounter several things that get in your way of attaining your goal.  I’ll help to keep you on track, refining your program so that it fits your lifestyle, while offering inspiration, sound nutritional advice, nutrition education that is specific to you, and more.  This ensures a much higher success rate for a continued healthy life.

To learn more about our customized program, click here

To learn more about what we have to offer, click here

To contact me, click here