Our bodies are amazing, in that when we are well, every part works together in perfect harmony. This is the foundation of holistic dentistry, because it’s about much more than just fixing your teeth. It takes the view that your mouth, as the gateway by which food enters your body, can have an impact on things like gut health and mental health as well as your oral health.
Diet is really important, because good nutrition gives our bodies the fuel it needs to operate at its best. In a perfect world, our mouths and bodies should be at a neutral pH, but it’s very common for modern diets (which typically include a lot of sugar) to cause a bacterial imbalance of the mouth microbiome. In addition to causing things like weight gain, and mood swings that come with sugar-induced highs and lows, it can also cause erosion of the teeth.
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Link Between Oral Health and Gut Health
The gut microbiome can influence things like mood, weight, and your general sense of health and wellbeing. The oral microbiome is very closely linked, because every time you swallow, you’re sending thousands of good bacteria from your mouth to your digestive system.
These bacteria are essential to your oral health, because they can prevent tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath. However, they’re also really important when it comes to gut health, because good bacteria in your mouth can stop bad bacteria from making its way to your stomach. This can prevent things like inflammation and even some diseases! The same works in reverse – bad bacteria in your mouth can trigger an immune response when it reaches your gut, which can cause things like rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and endocarditis.
Good oral hygiene, which includes regular brushing and flossing, goes a long way to removing bad bacteria. However, the best way to protect the link between your oral health and your gut health is with a good diet. This means keeping sugar to a minimum, eating whole foods, ensuring you have plenty of dietary fiber, and chewing properly every time you have a meal.
Oral Health Can Also Affect Mental Health
The most obvious way that oral health can affect mental health is through pain. Things like tooth erosion, cavities, and periodontitis can be extremely uncomfortable if left untreated, and studies show that this can lead to things like anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.
A comprehensive health survey of more than 10,000 people aged 20-75 living in the United States found that poor dental health increased the likelihood that a person would experience depression. Researchers found the more dental conditions a person had, the more severe their symptoms.
Just like gut health, the link between oral health and mental health is a two-way street. There is evidence to suggest that people who experience mental illness often suffer poor oral health – for example, if people experience dental anxiety, they may stop seeing their dentist regularly, which means the next time they visit they may have to get considerably more work done.
Again, diet can play a big part here. Felice Jacka, president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research, says: “A very large body of evidence now exists that suggests diet is as important to mental health as it is to physical health… A healthy diet is protective and an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression and anxiety.”
Future Research Into Oral Health Links
The link between oral health, gut health, and mental health is already clear, and we know diet is key. However, there are still many things scientists don’t know, which makes this an exciting area.
For example, poor dental health is a known source of inflammation, but the link between dental health, inflammation, and mental health has not been researched extensively. More research is also required to explain exactly why multiple dental conditions increase the severity of depression.
The best way to optimize your oral health, and the impact it has on your gut health and mental health is to schedule an appointment with a holistic dentist. They look at all these issues together, instead of in isolation, and will be able to advise you about the best way forward. They will talk to you about essential hygiene, such as brushing and flossing, as well as advising you the ways your diet can improve your oral health, gut health, and mental health.
Ready to schedule an appointment with Dr. Mandanas? Call our team!