Oral Health for Total Health
Updated: May 1, 2019
Anddddd we wrap up another great National Oral Health Month in Canada (soon, anyways - we've still got a couple more days of April to go). This year's theme was 'Oral Health for Total Health' - and coincidentally (did you catch that - coincidentally? :D :D :D), we had already touched on the topic in March when we discussed the link between dental health and its potentially predictive effect on certain diseases. Looks like we were ahead of the game :D
We do understand that problems like Alzheimer's Disease, Cardiovascular Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis may seem more like 'degenerative, far-off-in-the-distance health problems' that happen to other people - but surely not to us, right? While they sound serious (because they are!), it's often hard to connect to the idea that these problems could happen to us - until they do. But as a heads-up - heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada and about 2.4 million Canadians over 20 years old live with a diagnosed heart condition (Read more about that here). So really, no one is immune.
But, if we still didn't convince you of the role oral health plays in total health, let's dial it back and talk about the 'everyday ways' the two can be correlated together.
Digestion begins in the mouth - without teeth, it'd be quite difficult to break down food properly. For some people, losing teeth means avoiding certain foods and this can compromise their overall nutritional intake. As one example, if they're only having soft foods, this can mean a dramatic reduction in fibre intake, which can impact their bowel movements.
Blood serum levels of nutrients was measured in a study and also correlated with number of missing teeth. In part, this will likely be due to the avoidance of difficult-to-chew foods for people missing more teeth (as mentioned earlier). It could also be that because they're chewing less in general, the body can't break down food and absorb nutrients as efficiently, so blood serum levels are lower. This effect was seen and measured using glucose - participants' blood glucose was measured eating the same meal twice - once with adequate chewing and once without chewing. When they didn't chew, blood sugar levels didn't spike (likely because the body couldn't absorb the sugar as readily) - so maybe the same effect can happen with actual nutrients as well.
The relationship may work both ways though - in that if someone was malnourished, it may likely mean weaker teeth. That is, if there aren't enough nutrients (or building blocks) to go around while teeth are being formed, then your body make does with what it has. Similar to if you were building a building a bookshelf - is it made out of high-quality solid wood or particle board (i.e. pieces of wood chips, glued together to form boards)? We'd guess that under stress tests, the solid wood would fair better than the particle board, same that a well-nourished tooth will be stronger than a tooth developed without adequate nutrients. One study suggests that lacking certain proteins during the dental developmental stages may predispose teeth to dental decay - read about the rat study here.
2) Exercise/Physical Activity
So you may not have considered it (because it sounds like a long stretch!), but dental health and athleticism.
<Waits while crickets chirp>.
Off the top of our heads - we think of weight lifters and the tendency to clench the jaw while they're exerting their superhuman strength. While it's not all across the board, many other athletes also have this habit when bracing themselves or whatnot - and just an FYI - a small study suggest that it's more common when engaging in isometric exercises rather than isokinetic exercise. It's not so good for your teeth, but it may actually improve performance (Check out Dr. Shirley demonstrating this effect here on CTV).
The good news is, you don't have to destroy your pearly whites in order to do well in sports. There are such things as sports mouthguards - which can not only protect your teeth in cases where your face makes impact with a ball or the floor (or something else!), but it can also provide something for you to bite on - so you wear away the plastic instead of your teeth. Remember, it's easier to replace a mouthguard every so often than your natural teeth (and on average, no dental restorative is going to be as good as your natural teeth).
Also (and this might have a little something to do with point #1 - nutrition) - the consumption of sports drinks can impact the condition of your teeth. News flash: they have 'erosive potential' 😱 - as many of them are acidic. Good news is, the more pH balanced (and less acidic) they are, the less damaging they can be. Word to the wise though, you should probably hydrate with mostly water since sports drinks don't really provide any benefits beyond what water brings.
Finally, in terms of exercise and dental health - studies suggest that engaging in moderate physical activity may increase calcium absorption (read about that here) - and we all know that calcium is great for healthy bones and teeth. While teeth cannot be built back after loss, we're wondering if this has a sort-of preventative effect on loss/breakdown of your dentition - perhaps by making them stronger so it's less prone to damage? There hasn't been any direct studies that we could find, so this is all hypothetical at the moment.
3) Flossing for Longevity
Ya, ya, we know: we read that article too - the one that said people don't need to floss anymore. But here's our argument: flossing is a step towards good infection control - which could possibly increase your lifespan.
And when we discussed systemic diseases like cardiovascular disease, we mentioned that it may be due to bacteria in the gums spreading to other parts of the body by entering the bloodstream. If you floss daily, it can help prevent bacteria build up and plaque formation, reduce overall inflammation and not allow the bacteria to seep into your bloodstream. Eep - we said we weren't going to talk about 'diseases that happen to other people'. Sorry (not sorry) - but we just wanted to quickly mention that if there was going to be anything to shorten an otherwise long life - it could be a heart attack or stroke - just sayin'.
Otherwise, longevity studies suggest that:
Not brushing the teeth daily can reduce lifespan
Same as not flossing can reduce lifespan
Same as not visiting the dentist for 12 months can reduce your lifespan
Same as missing teeth can also reduce lifespan
For numbers and percentages, check out this research here.
We didn't want to say, "I told you so"...but we're totally going to 😏. Now, being logical thinkers, we can also read these results in a slightly different way. We should probably take into consideration a big potential confounding variable: that maybe people who brush, floss and see the dentist regularly generally also engage in other healthful behaviours - and if that's the case, it could also be these healthy behaviours increasing their lifespan. But why take the risk? Just make brushing, flossing and seeing us (the dental office!) a habit and enjoy a nice long life.
But if you're still dragging your feet and saying, "But...but...but...the experts say we don't need to floss anymore because it's shown to be ineffective" - it's possible that the participants were using improper technique. Let's be honest: It's easy to run your toothbrush over your teeth for about two seconds, rinse, then haphazardly track some floss into then out from between the teeth and call it a day. This isn't how dental professionals recommend it though.
Take two minutes, twice a day to brush thoroughly - you want to get the gums, your teeth, tongue, roof of the mouth - everything. You also want to carefully guide some floss to trace every tooth - slightly below the gum line to remove anything that's stuck there.
For more guidance, book yourself in for an Oral Hygiene Instruction visit (which can easily be paired with a cleaning appointment) - so our hygienist can give you tips on how to improve technique. Our office can be contacted by phone (416) 226-6688, email, or use our contact form. It's not just flossing that can improve your quality of life, it's flossing correctly that'll do it.