This blog post is based off our podcast this month and is a little different than others because of a special guest that I interviewed! This guest is someone who doesn’t have a huge background in orthodontics and had some questions about if and how oral health can affect our overall health! November is National Health Month so I thought this was very fitting to blog about to my readers who also don’t know a whole lot about oral health and may be interested in the subject as well. You can listen to that podcast here:
My guest is Lauren and she has been helping us with Marketing at Cooper Orthodontics. The topics we are going to cover today are, like mentioned above, how taking care of your teeth affects the rest of your body. She has come up with some questions about this subject, so let’s get started!
The first question she asked me was about a previous podcast I had done related to drinking water and the importance of it for our oral health. Obviously we all know that drinking water is good for our overall health but more specifically, she said she had heard that drinking water was especially beneficial for our teeth and wondered if that was true. Water is widely thought of primarily to hydrate and replenish, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that there is fluoride in our filtered drinking water. What is fluoride? That is what strengthens our teeth and helps our enamel to stay strong. Water also helps to cleanse your teeth, so as you eat food it is important to drink water after several bites to ensure food and sugar isn’t getting stuck on the tooth (which can cause cavities and decay). Your body, then, is not just relying on it’s salivary production to keep your teeth clean. If you don’t have enough saliva then you get dry mouth, and if you get dry mouth then the food sits there with the sugar on your teeth and you get more cavities. As far as coffee, tea, or juice, if it doesn’t have a ton of extra sugar that is better, but water is by far the best liquid to help keep our mouths clean.
The next question she asked was about how oral health affects our skin and wondered if there was any link between oral health and skin health. A very interesting question, and one that many people probably don’t think about! There is, in fact, a connection between the two interestingly enough! If you have bone disease, gingivitis, or cavities in your mouth, there is bacteria in all of those things which can get on your lips affecting the skin around that area and up through your cheeks. So, if you’re having an infection or issue in your mouth you are more than likely going to have a skin breakout around the affected area. Pretty interesting, huh! So, if you’re noticing a strange breakout in these areas perhaps evaluate your oral health and see if your body is trying to tell you something! Another suggestion is when you are getting ready for bed, it is wise to wash your face last. This is because saliva, toothpaste and bacteria can get on your face while brushing and if it is left there overnight could cause irritation or a break out. The other interesting thing about your gums is that they are actually a type of skin! Epidermis is what we call an outer covering and your gums are actually a type of epidermis and so is your entire gut. If there is a problem with one area of epidermis it tends to spread to other areas as well because it is all connected. That is why your skin is related to your mouth health, stomach health and intestine health.
Since Lauren and I ended up on the subject of gut health, she asked next how poor oral health can affect our overall health. The first thing I mentioned to her is that if you can’t chew your food due to misaligned or missing teeth, that is the first step to digestion. Over time that will cause you to have trouble breaking down your food which will cause your digestive tract to work in overtime. In addition, your saliva breaks food down on an enzymatic level which means there are little molecules that break down the food. In addition, your teeth also break down the food on a mechanical level which breaks food down into smaller pieces. You need both of those things to occur in order for digestion to start and if one or the other is failing then you ultimately won’t be able to get your proper nutrients since your stomach isn’t fully breaking everything down. If you do have tooth decay or some other infection, that bacteria that is in the infected area is going to be swallowed down into your gut causing bad bacteria to accumulate over time. That accumulation can lead to horrible stomach problems, so it is important to take care of mouth issues as soon as possible so it doesn’t trickle into the rest of your body.
In the podcast, Lauren and I talked more in detail about bacteria and the different roles it plays in our mouths and guts. After some discussion, she asked me about plaque and how it plays into all of it and if that can do any damage in our bodies. To make it simple, plaque is a combination of food and sugar that bacteria feed off of. Plaque is made as an environment created by bacteria for the bacteria to thrive in on the inside of our mouths. Plaque is bacteria’s ideal environment to live in because it is acidic and sugary so if you have excessive amounts of plaque in your mouth, you are swallowing that bad bacteria which then sits in your stomach, overwhelming the good bacteria. An excess build-up ultimately gets into your bloodstream causing more serious health problems that we will discuss next. Heart disease is one of the top killers in America, if not the most deadly, and believe it or not, oral health can be a contributor to it. The bacteria that causes inflammation in your gums is actually the same bacteria found in the plaque that is in arteries which makes them harden. This is called atherosclerosis. When you have that bacteria in your arteries you are more at risk for having blockages, blood flow issues, and Endocarditis which is when the lining of the heart hardens. All of the plaque that contributes to these heart diseases have been traced back to the same bacteria in our mouths. This is a large reason why straightening teeth is so important. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, but it is also functional and allows for cleansing of teeth so that plaque doesn’t build up in spots that can’t be reached due to crowding. With crowded teeth and not being able to take care of them comes gum disease. Gum disease is actually the most common inflammatory disease worldwide, yet it is not really talked about as an epidemic issue. What we are finding is all these links to many other health issues, so everything that dentists tell us to do as preventative care like brushing and flossing are for a bigger purpose than to keep our teeth clean or white. There is ultimately a bigger picture that a lot of people don’t pay attention to.
Lastly, Lauren asked about pretty much the only other part of the body we had not discussed yet – the brain. For a long time it was thought there was probably a link since plaque can get in the arteries, of course it could get into the brain. With recent studies in 2012 there is scientific evidence that oral health can affect the brain. Alzheimers and dementia are caused by plaque in the brain and it turns out that the plaque found has correlations with plaque in the mouth. There is no limit to where this plaque that starts in the mouth doesn’t go in the body. It is all flowing through us and it is up to us to be educated on these matters and to take oral health seriously so we prolong our life!
We hope you enjoyed reading about these oral health facts and that you can take something with you into your daily life to help you take better care of your mouth and share with your friends and family! At Cooper Orthodontics, we love educating the public so that everyone can be fully aware of why going to the dentist and orthodontist is so important! If you would like to tune in to hear the full version of this interview, find us on Anchor. Thanks for joining us – until next time!