Our mouths are a visual representation of our overall health and well being, but it’s what lies beneath the gum line that tells the real story.
Eighty percent of American adults have periodontal (gum) disease and inflammation — they just may not know it. Gum disease forms underneath the gums, and more often than not, it’s completely painless.
Our mouths are full of bacteria. The bacteria, along with mucous and other particles, form plaque that adheres to your teeth. If the plaque isn’t removed, it can harden and form tartar, which can become increasingly harmful the longer it’s left on your teeth.
The bacteria travels into the blood stream, passing through all of the organs in the body, including brain tissue, blood vessels and muscle joints, resulting in inflammation. As the inflammation grows, the body releases cholesterol and plaque as a way to wall off the inflammation, resulting in potential long-term health problems.
Gum disease is the leading cause of heart, liver and kidney diseases, as well as diabetes, and has also been linked to cancer. A 2010 study by the Office of Women’s Health indicated breast cancer was more prevalent in people with gum disease.
Cancer treatments and radiation often create mouth sores and dry mouth. When someone goes in for cancer treatment, they need to make sure their teeth and gums are healthy otherwise their chances of recovery can be hindered.
“Being a dentist, I may think what I do is more important than anything, but I do believe the mouth and the health of your teeth and gums is the most important factor in the health of the body,” says Dr. Jill Morris, a biologic dentist with a degree in naturopathic medicine who co-owns World Class Dentistry® in Sarasota.
“Those patients with gum disease also can have problems with narrow arches and airways, which can lead to sleep apnea and the increased risk of a stroke or heart attack,” says Dr. Morris. “When you let your teeth go, your tongue enlarges and eventually grows into the space where your teeth should be, which can lead to a collapse of the bite.”
The scary part is that gum disease and decay is contagious. You can spread the bacteria through kissing or simply sharing food and drinks. Dr. Morris has had patients who have been healthy for years who marry someone with gum disease and then they start showing signs of gum disease and bone loss as well.
“It may be the bacteria just spreading through the family,” says Dr. Morris.
So what can you do to improve your overall well being? Keeping a healthy smile is key. People should be water picking or flossing and brushing correctly every day. Dr. Morris encourages her patients to use an electric toothbrush.
“So many of us never learn to brush correctly,” says Dr. Morris.
Maintaining a healthy diet also plays a big factor in the health of the body. Minerals in your diet not only re-mineralize your teeth, protecting them from cavities and tooth decay, but they also help maintain healthy gums.
In addition to taking a daily multivitamin, you should eat a rich whole food diet, eliminating or at the very least limiting your intake of processed foods, flour and sugar.
“We look at the dietary impact on the teeth and health,” says Dr. Morris.
Finally, you should be getting regular dental cleanings. In years past, that meant every six months, but Dr. Morris says that insurance companies set this standard in the 1960s and that’s no longer the case. Some patients can go every six months, but others need to be seen every couple of months. Every patient is different.
“You need to get a good examination where you have periodontal probing measurements of the gums done to see what’s happening and spit tests to see the bacteria,” says Dr. Morris.
At World Class Dentistry, Dr. Morris and her team have taken a holistic approach to dentistry. Dr. Morris doesn’t recommend the use of fluoride due to the negative impact of fluoride on the rest of the body.
Following the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology guidelines, Dr. Morris uses ozone for surgical procedures, for wound cleaning and for all of her periodontal and cleaning appointments. Ozone also disinfects any area of the tooth that’s being restored.