A central tenet of holistic health is the interconnectedness of all the elements that make up your wellbeing. Through this approach, we learn how our lifestyle choices can impact health in ways we may not expect. But, an often-overlooked component of these complex connections is your oral health.
Having a plan to protect your oral health is vital to your wellbeing. That’s because your general health can be significantly impacted by the condition of your teeth and gums – which means more than having a bright smile.
In fact, around 50 different medical conditions are impacted by poor oral health, many in ways you might not expect, including:
- Mental health. This is a complex relationship. Poor oral health and unattractive teeth can lead to low esteem and chronic pain. And, people with depression are less likely to take care of their teeth and gums. One study found that the MRIs of people with poor oral health showed changes to the structure of the brain.
- Cardiovascular and respiratory health. Did you know people with periodontal disease (inflamed and/or infected gums) have two to three times the risk of having a cardiovascular crisis like a heart attack? Scientists suspect that the inflammation in your gums raises inflammation elsewhere, increasing C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, which are a sign of inflammation in the blood vessels. In addition, bacteria from the mouth move to the respiratory system, potentially leading to conditions like pneumonia.
- Gut health. Bacteria in your mouth can enter the intestines, so there is a positive correlation between having conditions like IBS and periodontal disease.
- Reproductive health. You might be surprised to learn that poor oral health can lead to erectile dysfunction. The inflammation and oxidative stress brought on by periodontal disease in males can impact blood vessels, including the flow of blood to the penis. As well, studies have shown that periodontal disease in women can increase the time it takes to conceive.
Steps For Better Oral Health, The Natural Way
Below is a proven plan for improving your oral health – backed by science.
1 – Ensure regular dental care.
Twice-yearly dental visits are an important component to any oral health plan
2 – Brush and floss regularly.
On the advice of my dentist I have started to use a water flosser, and my oral hygiene has never been better. If you haven’t tried one, mention it to your dental health professional to see if it is right for you
3 – Add oil pulling with coconut oil to your routine.
Oil pulling can reduce bacteria, help with bad breath, and improve gum health. It’s easy to do: just “swish” about one tablespoon of oil in your mouth for 15 to 20 minutes. Many people find this easiest with coconut oil because of its taste. To keep your drains clear, be sure to spit the oil out in a garbage can, not the sink!
4 – Meet your body’s nutritional needs.
Just like the rest of your body, your teeth depend on essential nutrients to stay strong. Calcium, magnesium, and potassium are especially important, so focus on leafy greens, beans, and fresh fruit.
It may be necessary to supplement your diet to make sure you have adequate amounts of these nutrients, so work with your healthcare provider to make sure your nutritional needs are being met.
5 – Bad breath? Scrape your tongue regularly.
Your tongue is an important component of your oral health because bacteria can be caught on your tongue and spread through your mouth and to the rest of your body.
Scraping your tongue is exactly what it sounds like,and you can use especially designed tongue scrapers to clean it.
The majority of bad breath (halitosis) is also caused by bacteria that accumulate on the tongue. By removing these bacteria, tongue scraping can help to eliminate bad breath.
As an added bonus, your sense of taste may improve as well!
6 – Protect your gut health and the balance of bacteria in your mouth
Your oral health influences your gut health, but this relationship goes both ways, as the bacterial balance in your gut will impact your oral health as well. In addition to eating high-fibre, natural foods to support gut health, consider supplementing with a probiotic for a good balance of bacteria, in your mouth and in your gut. As an added bonus, probiotics can improve halitosis.
7 – Rinse with sea salt water.
Rinsing with warm salt water reduces your mouth’s acidity and protects tooth enamel. If you find the taste unpleasant, just add a few drops of essential oils.
8 – Replace mercury fillings.
Older fillings may contain mercury, which has noted harmful health effects including fatigue, depression, and headaches. With time, the mercury can leak out of the fillings. Before this happens, take a proactive approach by asking your dentist to replace any mercury fillings with fillings made of resin.
Assessing Your Oral Health
Keep in mind that many factors contribute to oral health. Because some of these change over time, it’s important to adjust your healthcare routines as needed. As women age, for example, shifting hormones can increase their risk of periodontal disease.
Some things to keep an eye on include:
- Are your gums bleeding or sore?
- Are your teeth sensitive to hot or cold items?
- Do you feel pain when you bite?
- Are your gums receding?
- Does your jaw “click” with movement?
- Do you have bad breath?
If you notice any of these conditions, it may be time to evaluate your oral health plan and make some changes.
Byrd KM, Gulati AS. The “Gum-Gut” Axis in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases: A Hypothesis-Driven Review of Associations and Advances. Front Immunol. 2021 Feb 19;12:620124. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2021.620124. PMID: 33679761; PMCID: PMC7933581.
Humphrey LL, Fu R, Buckley DI, Freeman M, Helfand M. Periodontal disease and coronary heart disease incidence: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Gen Intern Med. 2008 Dec;23(12):2079-86. doi: 10.1007/s11606-008-0787-6. Epub 2008 Sep 20. PMID: 18807098; PMCID: PMC2596495.
Papageorgiou SN, Hagner M, Nogueira AV, Franke A, Jäger A, Deschner J. Inflammatory bowel disease and oral health: systematic review and a meta-analysis. J Clin Periodontol. 2017 Apr;44(4):382-393. doi: 10.1111/jcpe.12698. Epub 2017 Mar 6. PMID: 28117909.
Kisely S. No Mental Health without Oral Health. Can J Psychiatry. 2016 May;61(5):277-82. doi: 10.1177/0706743716632523. Epub 2016 Feb 10. PMID: 27254802; PMCID: PMC4841282.
Rajesh KS, Thomas D, Hegde S, Kumar MS. Poor periodontal health: A cancer risk? J Indian Soc Periodontol. 2013 Nov;17(6):706-10. doi: 10.4103/0972-124X.124470. PMID: 24554877; PMCID: PMC3917197.
Bansal M, Khatri M, Taneja V. Potential role of periodontal infection in respiratory diseases – a review. J Med Life. 2013 Sep 15;6(3):244-8. Epub 2013 Sep 25. PMID: 24155782; PMCID: PMC3786481.
Farook F, Al Meshrafi A, Mohamed Nizam N, Al Shammari A. The Association Between Periodontitis and Erectile Dysfunction: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Am J Mens Health. 2021 May-Jun;15(3):15579883211007277. doi: 10.1177/15579883211007277. PMID: 34013796; PM
American Heart Association, “Poor Oral Health May Contribute to Declines in Brain Health,” https://newsroom.heart.org/news/poor-oral-health-may-contribute-to-declines-in-brain-health\
Dutt P, Chaudhary S, Kumar P. Oral health and menopause: a comprehensive review on current knowledge and associated dental management. Ann Med Health Sci Res. 2013 Jul;3(3):320-3. doi: 10.4103/2141-9248.117926. PMID: 24116306; PMCID: PMC3793432.
Riccia DN, Bizzini F, Perilli MG, Polimeni A, Trinchieri V, Amicosante G, Cifone MG. Anti-inflammatory effects of Lactobacillus brevis (CD2) on periodontal disease. Oral Dis. 2007 Jul;13(4):376-85. doi: 10.1111/j.1601-0825.2006.01291.x. PMID: 17577323.
Burton JP, Chilcott CN, Moore CJ, Speiser G, Tagg JR. A preliminary study of the effect of probiotic Streptococcus salivarius K12 on oral malodour parameters. J Appl Microbiol. 2006 Apr;100(4):754-64. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2672.2006.02837.x. PMID: 16553730.
Almas K, Al-Sanawi E, Al-Shahrani B. The effect of tongue scraper on mutans streptococci and lactobacilli in patients with caries and periodontal disease. Odontostomatol Trop. 2005 Mar;28(109):5-10. PMID: 16032940.
Timmesfeld N, Kunst M, Fondel F, Güldner C, Steinbach S. Mechanical tongue cleaning is a worthwhile procedure to improve the taste sensation. J Oral Rehabil. 2021 Jan;48(1):45-54. doi: 10.1111/joor.13099. Epub 2020 Nov 22. PMID: 32978806.
Kaushik M, Reddy P, Sharma R, Udameshi P, Mehra N, Marwaha A. The Effect of Coconut Oil pulling on Streptococcus mutans Count in Saliva in Comparison with Chlorhexidine Mouthwash. J Contemp Dent Pract. 2016 Jan 1;17(1):38-41. doi: 10.5005/jp-journals-10024-1800. PMID: 27084861.
Colgate, How High Alkaline Foods Benefit Your Teeth, https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/nutrition-and-oral-health/how-high-alkaline-foods-benefit-your-teeth
O’Hagan-Wong K, Enax J, Meyer F, Ganss B. The use of hydroxyapatite toothpaste to prevent dental caries. Odontology. 2022 Apr;110(2):223-230. doi: 10.1007/s10266-021-00675-4. Epub 2021 Nov 22. PMID: 34807345; PMCID: PMC8930857.
Mortazavi SM, Neghab M, Anoosheh SM, Bahaeddini N, Mortazavi G, Neghab P, Rajaeifard A. High-field MRI and mercury release from dental amalgam fillings. Int J Occup Environ Med. 2014 Apr;5(2):101-5. PMID: 24748001; PMCID: PMC7767616.