Welcome to More Than Healthy as we continue to share our weekly health tips. This week we are talking about Tip #72, the health benefits of oral hygiene. To watch our weekly Video Tip, click this link. To listen to the audio podcast, click on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.
Some of you might be thinking, what in the world does oral hygiene have to do with the health of our bodies? But the two are inextricably linked, and both affect the other. The health of your mouth affects the health of your body, and the health of your body affects the health of your teeth and gums. As the daughter of a dentist, I’ve seen this to be true. And the science backs it up.
The oral microbiome
I mean, think about it. Pretty much everything you give your body flows through your mouth. It’s the main entry point for the body. Everything you eat and drink affects your oral microbiome – there’s a whole world of activity going on in there!
The oral cavity is second only to the gut when it comes to having the largest and most diverse microbiota. Your mouth harbors over 700 species of bacteria and numerous microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa. It’s an exceptionally complex habitat where microbes colonize and set up camp on the hard surfaces of the teeth and soft tissues of your gums.
What’s the deal with pH balance in the mouth and oral hygiene?
Did you know your mouth has a pH level, and that it affects the health of the whole body? Acid/alkaline balance, or pH balance, affects the levels of bacteria in the mouth. When the pH is off, it enables bad bacteria to thrive.
Every time you eat or drink, or put anything in your mouth other than water (which has a neutral pH of 7), the pH level of the oral microbiome drops and minerals leave the teeth. When minerals are depleted, teeth are vulnerable to damage caused by bacteria.
According to Dr. Steven Powell, a dentist at Loma Linda University School of Dentistry, “If you want bad bacteria to stop wreaking havoc in your mouth, create an environment where minerals remain in your teeth.”
What is the mouth-body connection?
Dentistry and medicine are usually separate worlds. But there is a pretty powerful connection between oral health and overall body health. They really can’t be separated.
When harmful oral bacteria leak into the bloodstream, they trigger the body’s immune system. This creates inflammation in other areas of the body. Dr. Mark Herzberg of the Department of Dental Sciences at the University of Minnesota says that chronic inflammation of the gums may contribute to inflammation of the vessels of arteries that leads to plaque buildup.
That’s particularly scary, since the bacteria in plaque are linked to problems like infective endocarditis, which is inflammation of the sack around the heart. Plaque is also linked to diabetes, lung infections, weakened immune system, and risk of pre-term delivery in pregnancy.
A personal example
I began working as a dental assistant for my dad when I was 13. I learned up close the importance of keeping your teeth, tongue, and gums healthy, and that doing so was integral to overall health. In my dad’s dental office, we saw evidence of this. In fact, the most powerful example is very personal to me.
When my second child was 18 months old, I noticed that the enamel of his teeth looked strange. It seemed soft and even flaked off a bit. I took him to my dad’s office, where my dad told me he had a terrible case of thrush and that the pH balance of his saliva was probably off. He encouraged me to take him to the doctor.
It ended up that the problems I noticed in his mouth were the very first noticeable signs of type 1 diabetes, the disease he was diagnosed with a few weeks later. At diagnosis, his blood sugar was over 900 (normal is between 70-120). High blood sugars directly affect saliva, which in turn affected his teeth.
In this case, the health of his mouth was affected by the health of his body. But I’ve seen the opposite happen as well, and research backs this up. Here’s a list of other conditions linked to poor oral hygiene:
- Heart disease and stroke
- Respiratory illnesses
- Cancer (including oral, throat, pancreatic, kidney, and blood cancers)
- Kidney disease
What are some oral contributors to poor health?
Your mouth and lips harbor multiple contributors to poor health, including:
- Mercury amalgams (those silver fillings so many of us have)
- Herpes simplex (the virus of cold sores and cankers)
- Periodontitis and gingivitis
- Root canals (this one remains controversial, but we have a personal story)
- The oral microbiome
Let’s look closer at each of these and why they’re problematic. I’ll also give you some suggestions about how to address them.
Mercury amalgam refers to the filling material widely used to fill cavities. You might know them as “silver fillings,” because they look like silver. But they are actually a mixture of metals, consisting of liquid mercury and a powdered alloy made of silver, tin, and copper. About half of dental amalgam is composed of elemental mercury.
Amalgam fillings have been used for 150 years, and are still used by many dentists today. They last a long time and are relatively inexpensive. The FDA says they’re safe, but they also post about the risks of mercury amalgam, stating:
“(Mercury amalgam) releases low levels of mercury in the form of a vapor that can be inhaled and absorbed by the lungs. Exposure to high levels of mercury vapor, which may occur in some occupational settings, has been associated with adverse effects in the brain and the kidney.”
They also provide a whole long list of those who could potentially be harmed by the mercury in these fillings; read more about that here.
And, although tests report the general population typically does not have adverse effects from amalgam fillings, studies confirm that dentists do.180 dentists were evaluated for mercury exposure and adverse health effects. The dentists were found, on average, to have over four times the level of urinary mercury. They were also more likely to have a kidney disorder as well as memory disturbances. Yikes!
David’s experience with amalgam fillings
Along his journey to reclaim his health, David has had quite a bit of experience with dental problems. This is often the case when you have complicated health issues, as it affects the health of the mouth. Let’s hear about his experience with amalgam in his own words:
Mercury amalgams, or those old-fashioned silver fillings, contain approximately 55 percent mercury and can release up to 10 micrograms of mercury into your circulation each day. I learned about this many years ago and chose to have my silver fillings removed. It turns out that you need to go to a dentist that specializes in this type of procedure because the removal can cause you to be really sick. Also, as in my case, it’s difficult to remove, and they didn’t get it all out.
So even though they’d been replaced with what looked like an enamel filling, when I went to a holistic dentist years later, they found that I still had little bits of mercury in my teeth. On top of that, my orthodontist had installed a metal retainer behind my teeth to keep them straight, and that metal retainer was leaching toxic metals into my system. This specialist said that retainer actually had a direct line to my bladder, and she’s pretty sure that’s why I got bladder cancer.
I had them remove every trace of metal in my mouth, and I believe it’s finally gone, since my hair analysis doesn’t show toxic metal exposure.
According to the World Health Organization, exposure to even small amounts of mercury may cause serious health problems. Mercury is listed by the WHO as one of the top ten chemicals of major public health concern.
Mercury toxicity symptoms range from coughing, trouble breathing, metallic taste in your mouth, nausea, vomiting, bleeding, and swollen gums up to abdominal pain, tremors, heart irregularity, and blood in vomit or stool. In some cases, like David’s, it can even include cancer. (Read more about David’s story in his book, Unlocking the Leaky Gut Code.)
You don’t want to mess around with this! If you have silver fillings or any metal in your mouth, you will want to find a good dentist to help you remove them.
How about the herpes simple virus?
Cold sores are extremely common, and they are also extremely contagious. If you deal with them from time to time, it indicates that the herpes virus is living in your nerve cells in the trigeminal ganglion, which is the group of nerve cells that provides feeling to our faces.
Herpes and the brain
Even though cold sores are somewhat harmless, one arm of the ganglion cells reaches up to our brains, thus providing access to our brains for these same viruses.
In fact, there was an extensive study done in Taiwan, where the herpes virus was very common, and so was dementia. This study showed that people with the herpes virus were 2.5 times more likely to get dementia than someone without the virus. Those that were treated for the herpes virus were studied over ten years, and they showed a reduced risk of dementia compared to those where the virus wasn’t treated.
Thankfully, I have never had to deal with cold sores, but Carla used to get cold sores all the time. And she’s not alone, since 50-80% of Americans get them, too. She didn’t understand at the time that it was just a dormant virus living in her body, waiting for a stressor to come to the surface. Fortunately, she discovered lysine. If she even felt one coming on, she would load up on lysine and avoid a big group of cold sores. It’s probably been 30 years since she’s had an outbreak.
You can also take humic acid or fulvic acid to treat the herpes virus. If that doesn’t do it, there are drugs your doctor can prescribe to get rid of it. Just know this is not a harmless virus. It can dramatically affect your brain’s cognition.
One way to watch out for this is to use hair analysis, which tells you if a virus is present in your body.
The next potential contributor to health problems is gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease. It causes inflammation of your gums, and the most common symptom is bleeding gums. This is the term for inflammation around the teeth, with associated gum retraction, and is caused by infections with different bacteria.
When your teeth and gums are healthy, these pathogenic bacteria are minimized, but when our teeth and gums are unhealthy, these damaging species can set up residence and invade.
Untreated gingivitis can turn into periodontitis, which is a more serious form of periodontal disease. It can damage the tissue that supports your teeth and even destroy the alveolar bone, leading to tooth loss.
The shocker is that although these bacteria have always been thought to be confined to the mouth, they are turning up all over the body. Studies confirm that the same infection that causes gum disease is now associated with several different diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cells of cancers, and the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
Another personal example
Carla’s father was diagnosed with periodontitis and struggled to get rid of the bad bacteria in his mouth for years (he even lost some teeth from the disease). A few years later, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Now that Carla has learned so much about oral health and the connection with the brain and body, she can see his dental problems were an early symptom of what was coming. She wishes she would’ve known then what she knows now about this subject.
In Dr. Dale Bredesen’s book, The End of Alzheimer’s, he shares what you can do to stop the mental decline of Alzheimer’s (and really most cognition diseases, like Parkinson’s) and even reverse it in many patients. He devotes a whole chapter to oral hygiene and health, because the link to brain health and cognition is so strong.
This next topic is still somewhat controversial, but the anecdotal evidence we have at More Than Healthy is compelling. Even though there’s a lot of controversy around this subject, both David and Carla have personally experienced infections in root canals that were done years ago. They had no idea that those root canal sockets harbored pockets of infection in their mouths.
I’ll let David tell you the story:
“Several years ago, we decided to go to a holistic dentist and get tested to see what health risks we had from our mouths. We shared above about the metal they found in my mouth, but they also found infection lurking in pockets where my wisdom teeth used to be and deep in my gums where root canals had been done.
They worked to get rid of those infections immediately, and in one case, they had to replace the root canal with an implant to ensure it didn’t return. In addition to flossing at night and brushing my teeth twice daily, I added a water pic to my regimen.
At my last exam, they said that my mouth looked great. Fortunately, all the issues are now resolved. The key going forward is to stick to these healthy routines so that my oral health has only positive effects on my brain and gut health going forward.”
Holistic dentists say that the bacteria left behind during a root canal can cause many health problems. Conditions caused by such bacteria can include fatigue, inflammation, and abscesses in the head or neck. Infection in the mouth like this can also lead to seemingly unrelated health problems. David believes this is what happened to him, as he has battled so much inflammation in his body over the years.
How can you improve the health of your oral microbiome through oral hygiene?
In addition to the suggestions above, here are some other things you can do to improve your oral microbiome.
What you eat matters.
This one is a BIG deal. Remember that pH balance we talked about earlier? Sugary foods and drinks throw that pH level way off, and this contributes to cavities and tooth decay and leads to a compromised immune system. That, in turn, leads to more dental issues, and potentially other health problems as well.
Salivary pH directly affects the health of the teeth and gums. Regulating the pH in your mouth helps reduce bacteria, which in turns reduces the risk of cavities, gum disease, and decay. The best way to maintain a healthy pH in your mouth is through the foods you choose to eat.
We talk a lot about eating good vegetables and fruits, about good sources of protein and fats, and about minimizing your intake of processed foods in previous posts. I’ve linked them here for you – take a look at those if you need a refresher.
Don’t snack and sip, but swish.
Related to #1 above, is that every time you eat or drink something other than water, it takes 10 minutes or more for your mouth to return to a proper pH level. So, if you’re someone who likes to snack throughout the day, or is constantly sipping on something other than water, your mouth is in a constant pH battle. One technique to promote pH balance is to swish water in your mouth after you consume food or beverages. This is especially important after eating anything sticky.
Don’t use fluoride toothpaste.
I know, this one goes against everything we’ve heard our whole lives about toothpaste! But, it turns out that fluoride is actually a neurotoxin. It should be avoided in water, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, etc.
The International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology has raised many concerns about the use of fluoride. (If you’d like to learn more, I highly recommend you read their article about this, here.)
They urge that we should work to eliminate avoidable sources of fluoride, including fluoridating our water and other fluoridated products (i.e. toothpaste) for the sake of our health.
Choosing a toothpaste that’s free from chemicals like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, triclosan, and plastic microbeads is also important. We recommend using The Dirt Toothpaste, a fluoride, sugar, and gluten-free option. Dr. Bredesen recommends Dentalcidin toothpaste, another good option.
Avoid antiseptic mouthwashes.
These kinds of mouthwashes not only get rid of bad bacteria, they also wipe out all of the good bacteria and destroy your oral microbiome.
Need another reason? We learned from Dr. Gundry (and studies confirm) that it raises your blood pressure. When Carla’s dad struggled with high blood pressure, she had him stop using his mouthwash. Once he did, his blood pressure went down.
Change your toothbrush frequently.
Most of us use the same toothbrush for far too long. Toothbrushes gather bacteria. We should be changing out our toothbrush (or the head of your electric brush) every 3-4 months.
Also, pay attention to where you store your toothbrush. Did you know that studies show that upon flushing, the average toilet sprays small particles 4.9 feet from the toilet at speeds up to 6.6 feet per second? And, once airborne, some particles stay in the air for up to a minute! Is your toothbrush safely stored, well out of the way of germs?
I wouldn’t be my father’s daughter if I didn’t mention flossing – so important to keeping your teeth and mouth clean. Also, use a tongue scraper each day. It only takes a few seconds, and studies show it improves the oral microbiome.
We’re going to do a whole post on this later this summer, but oil pulling can help improve your gum health.
Oil pulling simply means swishing oil around the mouth, like mouthwash. You put about a tablespoon of oil (we recommend coconut oil) in your mouth, and swish it around for 15-20 minutes.
Studies show this practice reduces the bad bacteria in your mouth, improves gum health, and prevents issues like bad breath and cavities.
Additional and important ways to boost your oral hygiene include not smoking. It is terrible for your teeth, gums, and the microbiome. I would also encourage you to find a good dentist. We recommend a holistic, biological, mercury-free dentist, and be sure to get your cleanings and checkups every six months.
Oral hygiene and hair analysis
If you don’t know if you’ve been exposed to toxic metals, then a great way to find out is with hair analysis testing, an amazing, informative service now offered at More Than Healthy. With just a few strands of your hair, you receive a full report looking at toxins, nutrients, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, electromagnetic frequency exposure, chemicals, radiation, parasites, immune factors, and foods you should avoid.
Go to our website to learn more. You can schedule a local hair analysis or order it online to be mailed to you today.
The importance of oral hygiene for optimal health
Did you learn something new about how to keep your oral microbiome in tip-top shape? Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions. We always love hearing from you! You can find us on our social media pages at @morethanhealthyliving. We try to respond to all questions and comments.
We’d love to become your health coaches as you work to become “more than healthy” and achieve optimal health. Thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you next week.
Note: Remember, we’re not doctors. We’re just sharing with you what’s worked for us on our health journey. You will want to consult your doctor before making any major changes to your diet and supplementation.