The surprising link between oral health and general well-being
The benefits of good oral hygiene go far beyond a healthy, bright smile. In fact, the health of our teeth and gums is strongly linked to our overall health. For this reason, dental practice is becoming increasingly oriented towards an integrated approach – one that may involve various specialists, such as general practitioners, rheumatologists, complementary medicine experts and more.
The gateway to our body
The food and drinks we ingest, and to some extent even the air we breathe, enter our body through the mouth. If the state of health of our teeth and gums is not optimal, the “oral gateway” can easily turn into an ideal environment for bacterial overgrowth. Our mouth is home to over 100 billion bacteria and germs, most of which are not only harmless, but also play an important protective role in oral health. However, these health-promoting bacteria live in symbiosis with numerous other species of potentially harmful microorganisms. Any imbalance in the oral flora can lead to overgrowth of harmful bacteria and various diseases such as plaque on the teeth and tongue, tartar, caries, gum bleeding and complications affecting dental implants, bridges or crowns.
Repercussions on general health
Unfortunately, diseases affecting teeth and gums can sometimes spread beyond the mouth. When oral bacteria and toxins enter the bloodstream and migrate to other organs and tissues, other body areas may be affected, too. The pathogens responsible for periodontitis (inflammation of the gums caused by bacteria) especially increase the risk of chronic inflammation in other body areas, which may lead to a variety of systemic diseases with no apparent link to oral health. These include, for example, fatigue syndrome, immune and intestinal disorders, joint diseases (due to cartilage deterioration induced by bacteria) and even cardiovascular diseases, since inflammatory cytokines can cause blood vessels to constrict.
Even dentalmalocclusion (the misalignment of the upper and lower teeth) can sometimes have detrimental effects on other body areas. By making chewing more difficult, it causes neck muscles to be overstimulated, leading to migraines, neck and back complaints, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and sleep difficulties.
A holistic approach
In the face of the complex interconnections between oral and overall health, the holistic approach has been gaining momentum in dentistry, with the aim of promoting more comprehensive and better integrated therapeutic strategies. To support allopathic dental practice in the treatment of teeth and gum diseases, a variety of natural remedies can be used to alleviate symptoms and promote the healing process. By way of example, the medical treatment for a gum infection or an abscess can be combined with a detox treatment to cleanse the body of necessary drugs (such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs etc.) as well as immune system boosters. Nature offers us a wide choice of herbal remedies, vitamin supplements and probiotics to tap into not only for strengthening medical treatments, but also to help maintain our oral microbiota in optimal balance, with no contraindications. As for malocclusion, osteopathy has been proven to be a very useful tool for alleviating the discomfort arising during treatment, as it helps the cranial bones to adapt more quickly to the necessary changes.
In terms of prevention, excellent results can be achieved by complementing good oral hygiene (both at home and at the dentist’s) with a diet that is friendly to the teeth and gums. Natural foods that are rich in fibre and low in sugars increase chewing and saliva secretion, thereby reducing the detrimental effects of the acids contained in food and helping to preserve the enamel. Calcium, fluorides and the antibacterial substances found in dairy products, nuts, seeds and leafy green vegetables are all good friends of our teeth.
To summarise, I recommend that you talk to your GP about any oral health issue you may have. The state of your teeth and gums can provide precious clues, allowing a variety of diseases to be correctly diagnosed and/or effectively and promptly prevented.
Dr Rodolfo Toscano, MD
Dental surgeon specialising in complementary medicine