Hint: It affects a whole lot more than just your teeth
It’s fair to say that most of us have at least a basic level of knowledge when it comes to maintaining our general health. We all know how important it is to exercise regularly, prioritise our mental health and of course, eat a balanced diet. However, it turns out there’s another essential component to a healthy lifestyle that many of us may be neglecting.
Our oral health.
Yep, as it turns out, the health of your mouth affects a whole lot more than just your teeth or breath. In fact, according to holistic dentist, health coach and personal trainer Dr. Lewis Ehrlich, your oral hygiene habits can not only cause tooth decay and gum disease, but can also impact your ability to control blood sugar and increase your likelihood of developing diabetes and heart disease.
Read on to discover the top causes of tooth decay and gum disease, and how the health of your mouth impacts the rest of your body.
The causes of tooth decay and gum disease
Like many areas of your body, your mouth is teeming with bacteria: some good, some bad. In fact, “there are between 700 and 1400 species of bacteria in the mouth at any one time. And tooth decay, which is essentially the softening of your tooth enamel (the hardest substance in the body), is caused by acids produced by bacteria when they break down sugar in your mouth,” Ehrlich explains.
Tooth decay is caused by a combination of factors: “Poor oral hygiene, consumption of refined sugars and processed foods, dehydration, smoking, mouth breathing, medications and irregular dental cleans,” Ehrlich says.
Alternatively, “gum disease occurs when there is an accumulation of aggressive bacteria underneath the gum for long periods of time, resulting in chronic inflammation. This causes the destruction of the bone and other supporting structures that hold the teeth and roots in place”. Similar to tooth decay, Ehrlich notes gum disease can be caused by a “nutritionally poor diet, lack of vitamin C, poor oral hygiene, irregular dental cleans, smoking, alcohol, mouth breathing, medications, age and genetics.”
The importance of flossing
While it’s often a step we tend to skip, flossing is one of the easiest ways to “disrupt plaque (which can cause tooth decay and gum disease) in areas where the brush can’t get to,” explains Ehrlich.
And contrary to popular belief, “the aim of flossing is not to get rid of all the bacteria in the mouth, but rather it’s about making the bacteria in your mouth friendlier and reducing the amount of inflammation in your mouth and therefore the rest of your body.”
Although we understand how unappealing adding another step to your nightly routine sounds, the benefits of daily flossing far outweigh the excuses! That is, if you do it right. Ehrlich says you should be flossing underneath the gums, as “it is the bacteria that lives underneath the gums that causes the most inflammation and damage to our health”.
How the mouth is linked to the body
Once you’ve taken a second to think it through, it makes total sense that your mouth acts as the gateway to the rest of your body. And if the health of your mouth is compromised, then there’s a good chance the rest of your body may be too. After all, your teeth are the hardest substance in the body, so if they’re experiencing decay, one can only guess what’s happening on the inside.
When it comes to specific health concerns, Ehrlich notes that inflamed gums can actually restrict our ability to control our blood sugar levels. “Because high blood sugar levels lead to damaged blood vessels, this reduces the supply of oxygen and nourishment to the gums, making infections of both the gums and bones more likely. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can cause levels of glucose to rise in the saliva and this creates a breeding ground for bacteria, thus increasing the risk of gum disease and dental decay.”
He adds, “severe gum disease can negatively affect your blood sugar control and increase your chances of suffering from long-term complications. For instance, the inflammation which occurs in the gums can escape into the bloodstream and upset the body’s defense system, which in turn affects blood sugar control. In other words, gum disease and diabetes are linked in both directions”.
The impact of the health of your mouth doesn’t stop there. In fact, gum disease can lead to other health complications like heart disease. “Both conditions are caused by chronic inflammation. The aggressive bacteria in the gums get into the blood stream and can lodge in the heart blood vessels and set up an inflammatory environment in the heart,” explains Ehrlich.
The best ways to maintain a healthy mouth
Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom and maintaining the health of our mouth is relatively simple. Brushing your teeth and flossing are a given. Ehrlich also recommends eating a diet full of nutrient-rich, natural foods. “This means a diet rich in fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K. These vitamins allow you to uptake nutrients that are vital for strong teeth and jaw bones.”
Ehrlich stresses the importance of eating chewy and hard healthy foods, too: “These days, food is soft, sticky, sweet and highly processed. Put your teeth and jaw bones to work the way nature intended. This will help to stimulate healthy saliva, which neutralises acid and keeps your teeth strong.”
You should also increase your water intake and “replace soft drinks, energy drinks and fruit juices with still, clean water. Also, be careful with sparkling mineral water – it is very acidic and a common cause of dental decay,” Ehrlich warns.
Furthermore, Ehrlich recommends practicing nasal breathing. Breathing through your mouth “leaves you more susceptible to snoring, sleep apnea, respiratory infections, tonsillitis, tooth crowding and decay (via drying out your saliva)”. Who knew?!
And last but not least, Ehrlich suggests oil pulling on occasion. If you’re at a loss as to what oil pulling is, we’re with you! Ehrlich explains that oil pulling involves “popping a teaspoon of coconut oil in your mouth and swishing it around for 15 minutes. The fat in the oil ‘pulls’ plaque from underneath the gums. It can help to reduce gum inflammation, decrease your chance of decay, fights against bad breath and is also a good, natural alternative to mouth wash.”
Want more tips and tricks on how to improve your overall health? Then discover three different ways to stay motivated to exercise and learn the five things anyone starting mediation needs to know.
Have you tried oil pulling before? Did you know your mouth health was so important? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
Main image credit: Getty
Kate started working for BEAUTYcrew in early 2016, first as a contributor, and was then named Beauty Writer in 2017. She loves picking the brains of the industry's top experts to get to the bottom of beauty's toughest questions. Bronze eyeshadow palettes are her weakness and she's forever on the hunt for the perfect nude nail polish to suit her fair skin. Her words can also be found in Men's Health magazine, and she now works in PR.