The Centrality of Oral Health to Your Overall Health
All roads lead to… gum health.
It turns out that oral health is more central to overall health than we ever imagined. “The health of your body influences your oral health and vice versa,” says naturopathic doctor Nadia Musavvir. “The mouth is technically part of the digestive tract or ‘the gut’ [and as] Hippocrates said, all disease begins in the gut.” This type of understanding, which highlights the bigger picture of the body’s functioning, is applicable to dentistry, as well, with a great degree of interconnection apparent between the gums and overall health. “Gum health and your overall health are a two-way street,” confirms Lawrence Fung, DDS, cosmetic dentist and founder of Silicon Beach Dental. “Especially when it comes to heart disease and even diabetes.”
To better understand their role in overall health, rē•frame the gums as a gateway to the rest of your body. Ideally, they would just allow nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and water through. But when their health suffers due to inflammation, recession, or periodontal disease, their degradation allows bacteria and pathogens (from plaque and food) to seep into the bloodstream. Reminiscent of the deleterious mechanism at work in leaky-gut syndrome, this then cues systemic inflammation within the body, all vis-a-vis the gums.
The Far-Reaching Consequences of Gum Inflammation
At first glance, the main fear associated with gum disease might be tooth loss. But the fact is that compromised gum health can have severe health consequences. For instance, a 2019 study found that gum disease at least doubles the likelihood of having a stroke, while also being linked to heart disease, diabetes, and some forms of dementia. The connection between the mouth and the body’s functioning is further demonstrated through a 2021 study linking gum health to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) via the “Gum-Gut Axis.”
“For decades we have observed a link between people with gum disease to have two or three times the increase in the risk of heart disease, including heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular issues,” Dr. Fung says. “The exact link is still being studied, and currently it’s believed that inflammation is the main cause between the two, as chronic inflammation is a major issue to heart problems.” He goes on to explain that those with diabetes are likely more at risk of periodontal disease, risking infections in the gums and bones. “It is thought that good oral and periodontal health may have the potential to affect blood glucose control and contribute to the progression and regression of diabetes.”
The Best Ingredients for Oral Health
Whether or not you use the remineralizing ingredient fluoride is between you, your teeth, and your dentist. Although it is added into our tap water in the United States, Dr. Musavvir points out that it is not added to the water in most countries in the European Union because it is considered a neurotoxin. “Some people want a toothpaste that is on the more natural side and is safe enough to swallow,” Dr. Fung says. “Fluoride-free toothpaste is indeed safe enough to swallow.” If you want to minimize your potential ingestion of fluoride, he recommends that you try alternating a fluoride toothpaste in the morning, and a fluoride-free toothpaste at night. Regardless of whether your oral health regimen includes fluoride or not, the following pro-health ingredients for dental care can make for fantastic replacements or supplements to your current dental regimen.
“Hydroxyapatite is a form of calcium found in teeth and helps remineralize teeth without being toxic,” says Dr. Musavvir. “It’s actually been shown to have higher remineralizing effects than fluoride.” This essentially means that it helps to repair weakened enamel, preventing cavities and reversing tooth decay. Dr. Fung continues, “[Calcium] Hydroxyapatite in fact makes up 97% of your enamel so it is key in helping to maintain the structural integrity of your team, and helps to repair it [by remineralizing the enamel] when acidity from foods or dental decay injures it.”
Interestingly enough, xylitol is a sweetener — but it could not be more different than typical sugars. First of all, Dr. Fung points out that xylitol kills plaque-causing bacteria and lessens plaque. Its oral health benefits also include mitigating gingival inflammation (it inhibits an inflammatory cytokine in the mouth) and stymying tooth decay. The ingredient is alkalizing (i.e., reduces acidity), helping to keep a neutral pH in the mouth and thereby preserving tooth enamel, as well.
CBD and turmeric stand to benefit gum health due to their anti-inflammatory properties. “CBD in theory can help minimize pain after procedures because it can help reduce inflammation greatly,” says Dr. Fung. “By reducing inflammation, we can assume that oral issues like gingivitis sensitivity, receding gums, and even TMJ issues, can be improved.” He notes, however, that more clinical research must be conducted on these ingredients before these claims can be considered facts. Turmeric extract is another natural ingredient that can be sought out for its anti-inflammatory effects.
A Few More Oral Health Tips
As your dentist has likely pointed out, it is important to brush your teeth at least two times per day, flossing after each meal (or at least each night). Dr. Fung also emphasizes the importance of going into the office for professional teeth cleanings. “Nothing removes plaque and tartar to prevent gingivitis and periodontitis like professional teeth cleaning,” he says. “Because of COVID, many people did skip their annual dental appointments last year, and I have noticed an uptick in inflamed gums, even with patients who are very fastidious with their at-home dental care.”
As for your at-home regimens, the regular use of a Waterpik or dental floss helps to break up the bacterial film on the surface of the teeth and dislodges any food or residue stuck between them. If you are especially health-conscious, you can look for Teflon-free dental floss — some even come infused with hydroxyapatite. Dr. Fung also recommends using an alcohol-free mouthwash with xylitol and/or soothing CBD.
Oil pulling — using coconut oil and sometimes herbs — and tongue scraping are two anti-bacterial oral health practices that come from Ayurvedic medicine, both of which Dr. Musavvir recommends. After swishing antibacterial coconut oil in your mouth, always remember to spit it out into the garbage can. Never swallow it, and never spit it into the sink (it will clog the drain).
Lastly, some experts recommend alternating between a manual and an electric toothbrush — and brushing gently, using soft or medium bristles — in order to help prevent gum recession.
Now that you’ve gotten an overview of the importance and centrality of oral health, here are some of our favorite products.
- Risewell Natural Hydroxyapatite Toothpaste $12
- Hyperbiotics PRO-Dental, $23
- Waterpik Sonic-Fusion 2.0 $169.99
- Hello Replaceable Head Toothbrush Starter Kit $9.99
- Apa White Toothpaste $25
- Hello CBD Fluoride Free Toothpaste + Activated Charcoal $12.99
- Curaprox Hydrosonic Pro $199.99
- IntelliWHiTE Pro White Professional Toothpaste & Power Boost Daily Whitening Gel $59.95
- Boka Ela Mint Floss $5
- Risewell Alkalizing Mouthwash, $18