By Randi Mann, WHNP-BC, NCMP, APNP
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. We recommend seeking out a holistic dentist who focuses on prevention and lifestyle changes as opposed to invasive treatments. Ask for us for recommendations!
2 – Brush and floss regularly.
Brush after every meal with a soft-bristle brush. Some research has found detrimental effects from toothpaste with fluoride, although the American Dental Association continues to recommend it. It’s best to discuss the risks and benefits with your dentist.
Flossing after every meal is also a good best practice. Be sure to wrap the floss securely around each tooth – your dentist can show you how. If you don’t enjoy flossing, stick to it for a while, and any bleeding gums you may experience should get better with time. You could use a water irrigator to get rid of food and plaque between your teeth.
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-fiber, 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.
If you’d like to talk about your oral health, don’t hesitate to reach out!
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