Brushing teeth, flossing, taking care of your gums – not really that exciting to be honest. But it’s something close to my heart as I’ve had problems with my teeth, not due to lack of brushing I might add, and it’s something I’ve finally started to take seriously after seeing the dentist and hygienist who both got kind of cross about it! But I get their point, poor dental health is a big problem and I’ve since found out that despite it being fairly well known that cardiovascular disease and diabetes can contribute to gum disease and oral decay, were you also aware that this relationship may be cyclical. Poor dental health can actually contribute to disease states? It turns out that oral health, diabetes and heart disease are all very much intertwined.
Not so long ago we were all lead to believe that cholesterol in the foods we eat was what caused damage and blockages to arteries – but now we know that dietary cholesterol has very little to do with blood serum cholesterol (for more on this see a previous blog). On the other hand, researchers evaluated over 600 senior citizens who had no prior incidence of cardiovascular disease and found a definitive link between periodontal bacteria and thickening of the arteries. (1) This wasn’t a new discovery actually. A few years before this a Clinical Microbiology Reviews article explained possible mechanisms for this connection between oral health and heart disease. (2) These mechanisms come down to infection (from bacteria which release toxins into the blood stream from the mouth), and an inflammatory response from the body. It’s well know that heard disease, diabetes and atherosclerosis are all connected to inflammation. So really these mechanisms mean that not only do the diseases lead to poor dental health, but poor dental health may lead to more widespread disease, potentially contributing to diabetes and heart disease.
So sorting out your teeth is pretty crucial really. How to do this? Well being a nutritionist the first thing I’ll focus on is making sure you are getting enough nutrition in your diet. On a quick side note, we’re going to leave the usual debate about fluoride. I personally go for fluoride free toothpaste, but it’s one of those controversial issues that I think each person has to decide for themselves. Other than fluoride, there are other minerals and vitamins that we can all agree on are important for teeth – which means that nutrition plays a large role, not just in terms of how the wrong foods negatively affect your teeth and gums, but also how eating the right foods can help.
The list of nutrients needed for proper dental health is fairly lengthy, and includes Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Zinc, Vitamin A, B2, B3, B12 and Vitamin C which would all be covered in a healthy diet based on whole foods and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. If it helps to zone in on some key nutrients then you could try the following three:
Vegetables – collard greens, spinach, kale, watercress, onion, garlic, celery, broccoli
Fruit - dried figs, apricots & prunes, oranges
Nuts & Seeds – almonds, sesame, Brazil, pecan, sunflower, chestnuts
Grains - rye, quinoa, barley, rice
Dairy - yoghurt, cheese, whole milk
Other – tofu (made with calcium sulphate)
Vegetables – beet greens, spinach, peas, broccoli, celery, tomatoes, cauliflower, sweet corn, onion
Fruits - dried figs, apricots & prunes, banana, pineapple, orange, blackberry
Nuts & Seeds - almonds, cashews, Brazil, pecan, sunflower
Other - buckwheat, millet, rye, barley, tofu, molasses
Vegetables – red peppers, kale, broccoli, red chilli, greens, Brussels sprouts, watercress, cauliflower, spinach, asparagus, okra, peas, cabbage, tomatoes,
Fruit - guava, persimmons, papaya, mangoes, cantaloupes, all citrus fruits, all berries, kiwi
Legumes - lima, black-eyed, soy
However, this is only half the story. I think it’s safe to say we all know by now just how damaging sugar is for our teeth – whether this is sweets, cakes, fizzy drinks (the WORST!!!) or even eating a lot of white carbs such as bread and pasta etc. So obviously we need to cut back on sugar if we want to support dental health. It’s not just due to the role sugar plays in plaque formation, but also due to the more widespread issues of cardiovascular health, as discussed at the start of the blog.
This brings up the subject of the sugar in fruit. Now I personally feel fruit is incredibly healthy (not at the expense of vegetables, but alongside your greens!). They contain a huge number of nutrients, many of which are needed for good gum health and strong teeth, but I do worry about the sugar content in terms of plaque formation. Fruit juice is always listed on the “things to avoid” for prevention of cavities, but what about whole fruits? Ultimately, fruit does contain sugar which bacteria in the mouth can act upon. I’ve heard people argue otherwise, and even Anthony Williams (who you probably realise by now, I very much follow) says that whole fruits aren’t a problem. But given my history of fillings and extractions, I verge on the overly cautious side and after eating any fruit I always have something savoury or I carry ginger slices around with me to have afterwards. Given how healthy root ginger is, even if it’s not needed, it’s still going to be doing me the world of good anyway, so why take the risk?
So to sum up, a healthy diet, one that is low in sugars, is a good move towards dental health. Of course many factors contribute to poor oral health, including smoking, stress, some medications, broken or defective fillings, poor fitting bridges, cracked teeth, underlying immune deficiencies – this list goes on. But a healthy diet is still a basic thing to focus on and build from.
Now in terms of brushing, flossing etc, what’s the deal there? I’ve heard many different things, but given that within 3 months I turned my dental/gum health around by about 80%, I feel that these recommendations would be good advice for anyone (most of which come directly from my dentist and hygienist).
Buy a decent electric toothbrush – I use Oral B 4000 – which is pretty high powered (get as high a power as you can afford).
Brush your teeth before breakfast (you want to do it first thing in the morning, to scrub away any of the bacterial build-up over night). You need to brush for 2 minutes – most electric toothbrushes have timers on.
Brush in the evening too but here comes the boring part. Before brushing, you need to floss. Firstly with interdental brushes (e.g. the TePe brushes – just find ones that fit through the gaps), and then with regular floss. Only then do you brush with the electric toothbrush. I promise you that flossing is the quickest way to improve your gum health. There are no ways around it (I’ve tried!). But to be fair, after a couple of months it’s become as routine as brushing, and I’d find it hard to go to bed without flossing now.
Added things you can do (which I do) include using a water flosser – this isn’t something the hygienist raved about (not because it was bad, but because she didn’t think it did much). However, this is where I took on a bit of info from Anthony Williams, who said they were a great thing to use as a way of massaging the gums, which increases blood flow and therefore improves gum health (all makes perfect sense).
I also use essential oils in a home made mouthwash. There are a tonne of DIY recipes you can use, but I literally just have a small glass of water and add a drop of orange, clove and peppermint (for more on essential oils and where to buy the best ones click here). Swish it around for a few minutes and then spit it out. You can use coconut oil too, along with the essential oils – as a form of quick mouth rinse, or for oil pulling. Oil pulling involves swigging coconut oil around in your mouth for about 10 minutes, to help pull out the bacteria build up. It feels great after and makes perfect sense, I just can’t be bothered at this stage to swig it round for 10 minutes, but if you can then this is an excellent thing to do too!
So don’t wait till you’re in the dentist’s chair, start work on improving your dental health now. Honestly, you won’t regret it. If it seems like too much hassle, then simply picture yourself cleaning your dentures every night!!!!