How to Transform Your Health Through Your Mouth
It takes work to achieve optimal health and wellness. The latest wellness fads just won’t cut it. Making drastic lifestyle changes based on something your friend told you about last week won’t do the trick either.
The secret to transforming your health can be as simple (and important) as taking better care of your mouth — from what foods you put in it to how you treat your gums.
It’s what doctors refer to as “oral-systemic health,” and it’s a concept that we’ll be focusing on in today’s blog post. Let’s dive in!
The relationship between oral & overall health — why it matters
If you’re a frequent visitor to our website, then you’ve heard me discuss this topic before:
Your mouth plays an important role in your overall health.
Researchers are still determining the full connection between oral health and other diseases, but according to the Academy of General Dentistry, more than 90 percent of all systemic diseases produce oral symptoms.
When I look inside a patient’s mouth, there are many things I’m watching for that extend far beyond how clean their teeth look. These include:
- Gum disease: Can be a sign of diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or asthma
- Bone loss/tooth loss: Has been linked with osteoporosis
- Sores & growths: Can be a sign of oral cancer
- Thickening lining of the mouth: Can be a sign of oral cancer
- Lesions: Can be a sign of HIV/AIDS and diabetes
Not only can oral health issues be symptoms of a larger issue, some studies point to oral health as the cause, or at least a contributor, of serious health problems like:
- Heart disease. 91% of patients with heart disease also have gum disease
- Heart attack & stroke. Inflammation in the mouth may increase inflammation in the blood vessels
- Diabetes. Inflammation in the mouth makes it difficult for insulin in your body to do its job, making diabetes very difficult to manage
- Pregnancy complications. Gum disease during pregnancy has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight
How does your dental health contribute to these problems?
Think of it this way: A barrier exists in your mouth between your gums and teeth and the rest of your body. When your mouth is inflamed or infected, this barrier breaks down and allows bacteria to travel into your bloodstream, triggering disease.
Though more research is needed to determine the links between oral health and other diseases, we know one thing for sure: Good oral health is good for your whole body.
Care for your mouth, care for your overall health
A proactive and preventive approach to dental care is the best strategy for overall long-term health and wellness. I always encourage my patients to think of their dental health as a combination of good care habits and healthy lifestyle practices.
Even if you haven’t taken this approach in the past, there’s no better time than the present to start making changes and transform your health. Here’s how.
1. Visit your dental team regularly
Just like your primary care doctor, think of your dentist as a partner helping you achieve lifelong health — but you can’t be successful partners if you only work together when times are bad.
Visiting your dentist regularly (even when you don’t feel like anything is wrong) not only helps prevent problems, it also leads to a stronger relationship. When you know and trust your dentist, you’ll feel comfortable asking questions and discussing concerns. Plus, your dentist will be able to identify small changes in your health and provide more personalized care.
How often should you visit your dentist? I recommend most patients schedule an exam and cleaning appointment twice a year.
2. If it hurts, get help quickly
Beyond your biannual cleanings, keep an eye on your health and make an appointment when it changes — don’t wait until the problem becomes a painful emergency. Waiting to get help can mean more expensive treatments, or worse — irreversible damage.
Although problems like a broken tooth or jaw pain are obvious, here are a few other signs that it’s time to call your dentist:
- Bleeding gums
- Mouth sores that won’t go away
- When you’re about to start or have begun major medical treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, hormone replacement therapy, or medication to increase bone density
- Swelling in your neck, face, or mouth
- A loose tooth (that’s not a baby tooth)
- Bad breath or a yucky taste in your mouth
- Extra sensitive teeth
3. Brush & floss like a pro
You didn’t think I would go a whole article without mentioning one of the most important (and easiest) ways to maintain good health, did you?
There are many reasons why proper and consistent tooth brushing and flossing is necessary:
- Freshens breath
- Helps prevent gum disease and cavities
- Limits bacteria buildup in your mouth (reducing risk of heart attack and stroke)
Make sure to use a soft toothbrush and replace your brush every 3-4 months. And don't overdo it on toothpaste — a pea-sized amount is perfect. When flossing, be gentle on your gums, and hug the floss to your tooth while slipping it under your gums.
How often should you brush and floss? I recommend brushing at least twice a day for 2 minutes and flossing once a day.
4. Understand how to prevent gum disease
Like we discussed earlier, gum disease is a serious issue. But it’s not enough to simply know the danger, you have to understand how and why it occurs in the first place.
I recommend reading this post about how to tell if your gums are healthy. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to make the best choices for your health and ensure your gums stay healthy.
Here are a few key points:
- There are many types of gum disease, but the 2 most common are gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is a milder form of the disease while periodontitis is more serious and leads to bone (and tooth) loss.
- Gums that are red, swollen, tender, and bleeding are not healthy gums. Don’t ignore these symptoms.
- Gum disease treatment options range from prescription mouth rinses, to root planing, and advanced surgical treatments.
- Depending on your lifestyle choices and overall health, you may be at greater risk for the disease — for instance, smoking is a huge risk factor for gum disease
5. Eat a healthy diet
What you put in your mouth matters — just like your body needs healthy food, so do your teeth! There are a number of problems that can occur as a result of your eating habits:
- Frequent snacking leads to tooth decay
- Sugar and highly processed foods lead to cavities and other health issues, like diabetes.
- Some foods can cause staining
- Even too much fruit, which is highly acidic, can cause problems if you’re not careful
Keep in mind that brushing and flossing, while important, will not totally eliminate negative effects of a poor diet. Eating a diet rich in whole foods and low in sugar is the best defense.
Having a great dentist helps your health
Taking care of your teeth means taking care of your whole body — and vice versa! As important as this fact is, you don’t have to go at it alone. Your dentist is your first line of defense and your partner in ensuring your teeth, gums, and mouth is helping your health, not hurting it.
Do you want to learn more about transforming your health? Start by contacting me to schedule an exam! Or if you have a specific question, don’t hesitate to ask. Our entire team would love to hear from you and provide you with the resources you need to achieve health and wellness.