There’s a paradox that I come across as a dentist nearly every day. People want healthy teeth and know they are important. They also want a better* looking smile (a good indication of healthy teeth). But here’s the thing, they hate going to the dentist.
I’ve heard every excuse under the sun for people to avoid their dental appointment. People don’t like going to the dentist.
How can you help people have healthy teeth if they avoid you? I would see chronic dental diseases in people’s mouths all the time. People want healthy teeth, but they didn’t seem to realize how important it was to look after their oral health.
For a long time I was bothered by this. But eventually, I realized that people need to understand how their mouth connects to the rest of the body.
Thankfully, research outlining the mouth-body connection has expanded in recent years. It’s also showing us how nutrition and the food we eat is intimately connected to the rest of the body. If you want a healthy body, you should aim to have healthy teeth.
In this post, we’ll explore how your dental health is connected to the rest of the body.
Dental Disease Is A Big Problem
Our mouths are as diseased as ever. 42% of kids will experience tooth decay between the ages of 2 to 111. Then in adulthood, adults almost half of adults (65 million) 30 and older will have gum disease.
The numbers are alarming. But one stat that we often miss is a number of children with crooked teeth. It’s estimated up to 88% of kids today do not grow a straight normal occlusion.
Each of these oral diseases has implications over the body.
The Long History Of The Serious Disease And Dental Health
Research has for many decades now shown a link between periodontal disease and a number of other conditions. These include some critical health issues such as:
These links have been unable to curb high rates of dental disease in society. However new research is paving a more detailed picture of the oral-systemic link.
Let’s take a look at some of these:
Jaw Structure, Crooked Teeth And Facial Growth
Crooked teeth are a direct result of how the upper and lower jaws develop. Orthodontic braces may straighten teeth, but it’s important to also address underlying issues associated with facial growth.
Cramped upper teeth means the upper jaw (maxilla) hasn’t expanded as it should. The result is a narrow or high ‘palate’. The maxilla also houses many other structures including the nasal airways. Improper growth of the upper jaw may cause an increase* in mouth breathing.
This is a problem because nitric oxide is released from the nasal sinuses and crucial for oxygen delivery around the body.
Improper breathing may cause serious harm to the brain.
For adults, alongside obesity, improper jaw growth may implicate high risk of obstructive sleep apnea. This is pathological snoring that result in ‘pauses’ or apneas in breathing. Sleep apnea has been linked to high blood pressure, heart failure and dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The Digestive System Begins In The Mouth
One of the newest frontiers in medicine is the gut microbiome and how it relates to many organs and diseases.
Bacteria in the gut are now known to control* the permeability of the gut lining. This is crucial because 80% of the immune system lies on the other side of this gut lining. Studies have revealed that the gut microbiome may be at the root cause of a range of diseases such as:
- Digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
- Autoimmune conditions like celiac disease, type I diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
- Metabolic conditions such as obesity, thyroid disease and type II diabetes.
- Brain dysfunction such as ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
As you can see this list, nearly every organ and system in the body has some connection to gut health.
What we often miss though is that the oral flora is in direct cross talk with the gut microbiome. Saliva carries thousands of bacteria into the gut microbiome every time you swallow.
Dental diseases such as tooth decay and gum disease have been known to be bacterially driven. The problem was for a long time they were seen as infection.
The new ‘microbiome’ view of the mouth shows dental caries and gum disease to be an imbalanced state. The disease-causing bacteria are known to live in the mouth with 600 other species in health. But when the overall ecology is imbalanced, disease occurs.
Disease that begins in the mouth may cause a gut imbalance that relate to disease all over the body.
The Mouth-Body Link Is Key To Overall Health
If there’s anything that I try to instill in my patients, it’s that their dental health is, to their entire body.
Your teeth and dental health are one of the best signs of your overall health. Great smiles mean better* health for life!
- Eke, Paul I., et al. “Update on prevalence of periodontitis in adults in the United States: NHANES 2009 to 2012.” Journal of periodontology 86.5 (2015): 611-622.
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- Kilian, M., et al. “The oral microbiome–an update for oral healthcare professionals.” British Dental Journal 221.10 (2016): 657-666.
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