Welcome to the third and final article on Holistic dental health. In this post, we’ll look into practical tips and strategies for keeping healthy teeth & gum well into old age.
It all starts with prevention of tooth decay (caries)
Dental caries or cavities, more commonly known as tooth decay, are caused by a breakdown of the tooth enamel, the outer layer, a tooth shield if you like. This breakdown is the result of bacteria on teeth that break down foods and produce acid that destroys tooth enamel and results in tooth decay if left untreated. Dental caries are a first step in developing gingivitis which is followed by periodontitis often accompanied by toot loss, pain and inflammation.
Losing teeth and needing to wear dentures can be incredibly restraining. Research has found that people who wear dentures often have profound nutritional deficiencies and overall poorer health because they to avoid foods such as vegetables, nuts and other foods that may be harder to chew or that may stick to the denture itself. They often choose processed foods, sugar and refined carbohydrates because those require less effort to eat; however may lead to detrimental health outcomes such as the early onset of heart disease and cognitive decline.
We also know that nutritional deficiencies caused by the inability to chew and consume high-quality foods may (in older age) lead to muscle loss, bone loss, dementia and overall loss of vitality, mobility and strength. And while I understand that most of the readers of these blogs are young, one day all of us will achieve our seniority and once we do, the way we have treated our bodies and health will be drastically reflected on our quality of life. Not needing to wear dentures or not having missing teeth is one of those things that improve quality of life, and you’ll be thankful to your younger self that you cared for back then.
This is not okay!
It is not okay to have sensitive gums all the time.
It is not okay if you see blood every time you spit out toothpaste.
it is not okay to have a smelly breath and cover it with chewing gum.
It is not okay to have receding gums.
If you experience any of those, please stop ignoring the signals your body is giving you and visit your dentist or a hygienist. If you need more motivation, consider reading part 2 of this blog trilogy.
Start with 100% commitment to dental care
When in doubt, speak to your dentist and/or hygienist and ask them to properly explain the technique of brushing as well as interdental cleaning/flossing as well as whether use of an electric toothbrush is appropriate to you.
Half-assed brushing is not enough, nor is it just kinda chewing on the brush while texting on the phone nor is using only mouthwash instead of brushing and flossing.
I would like you to make a life-long commitment. Here and now! If there is only one thing to take away from this article may it be this:
“From this day onwards, never go to bed without having brushed and flossed your teeth properly with meticulous precision and care.“
This one habit will save you tens of thousands of dollars over a lifetime.
Despite the fact that carbs have an incredibly bad reputation even among educated health professionals and personal trainers (who unfortunately often do not understand the difference between refined and complex carbs), studies show that swapping typically refined carbohydrates (pastries, bagels, cakes, croissants, white rice, wheat flour, white pasta) for complex carbohydrates (whole grains, whole grain pasta, legumes, sweet potatoes etc.) better dental health may be achieved.
Where refined carbs have been shown to contribute to periodontal disease, inflammation, tooth loss, dental plaque and oral cancer, complex carbs reduce the risk of all of those outcomes. Complex carbs are healthy, beneficial and highly recommended to eat in abundance. If you want to learn more about them consider downloading my free e-book Bro’s Guide to Wellbeing. Where I go over different options.
Practical tips: Start replacing your white flour pastries with better, wholegrain sources. Look for those with the most fibre. Replace corn & wheat cereals with wholegrain products such as oat or buckwheat. Replace white rice with brown rice, barley, millet, quinoa or amaranth. Replace white pasta with high-fibre pasta made from whole grains or legumes. Eliminate as much added sugar as possible from your diet. Sugar is the number one cause of caries and dental health problems.
The typical western diet is very rich in saturated fatty acids that have been linked to the development of diseases such as heart disease and cancer as well as high in Omega 6s and too low in unsaturated fats especially Omega 3 category.
Some research had found that when test subjects replaced sources of saturated fats and replaced those calories with sources of unsaturated fatty acids such as healthy oils, nuts, fats, avocado and fish, their dental health has improved. Increasing Omega 3 has reduced the severity of periodontitis (progressive gum inflammation)
This is because Omega 3 fatty acids have known systemic anti-inflammatory effects that have been demonstrated across a variety of health conditions. They may potentially also have some antibacterial function, especially DHA, which is often deficient in people.
Practical tips: Introduce more omega-3 rich foods such as oily fish, walnuts, almonds, macadamia, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, soy products, flax oil and algal oil capsules. At the same time, if you consume meat, dairy and eggs on a daily basis, consider replacing some of those with plant-based sources of protein such as legumes, tofu or tempeh to cut down on the number of saturated fats consumed
Fruits & Vegetables (F&V)
There is an absolutely indisputable amount of research to show that eating an abundance of F&V is beneficial for human health and no amount of low-carb, paleo, keto, antinutrient or similar nonsense can dispute this.
In terms of dental health, people who eat the most F&V have the least periodontitis, least inflammation, the most teeth preserved into older age, the least periodontal pockets and dental problems.
Micronutrients that may be useful
It appears vitamin D deficiency may have a negative effect on dental health and bone loss in the oral cavity (a common sign of advanced periodontitis); however, larger studies exploring this connection are missing. Regardless, correcting vitamin D deficiency and achieving proper levels should become part of both therapy and prevention of dental health disease, among other things.
Calcium is an essential mineral in the body located in bones, tissues but also in teeth. This mineral performs a key structural function as a component of the hydroxyapatite crystals of teeth and bone. While the research on whether calcium addition is helpful in periodontal disease is not conclusive, it appears that chronic calcium deficiency may have a negative effect on dental health as well as bone health and muscle & nervous system function. I would advise against supplementing unless prescribed by a doctor but take care to include enough sources of calcium in the diet from sources other than dairy. A quick google search will reveal what the best sources are.
Very small amount of research shows that magnesium may be relevant in periodontal disease, especially some studies from Japan. Magnesium deficiency may occur in people eating a low-carbohydrate diet or generally calorically deficient diet. Those who are very active, athletic or exposed to excessive stress may benefit from some additional supplementation. In terms of diet, the best sources are whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts. A supplementation is an option as well.
Zinc deficiency is extremely common. Zinc, the second most abundant mineral in the body, is an essential cofactor of many enzymatic reactions in the immune system, sperm production, gut, the brain, bone & joint health, as well as skin. Zinc appears to also have an antibacterial function in the oral cavity (mouth). And so (theoretically) zinc deficiency could lead to poorer localised immunity in the mouth and subsequent development of infection & inflammation. However, the studies confirming this relationship in humans are so far lacking. Nevertheless, it makes sense to pay attention to eating enough zinc in the diet, with the best sources being: seafood, seeds, legumes, wheat germ, oat bran and wild rice. [btw notice how those food recommendations always come down to the same food groups? There is a reason why that is so].
An experimental study on 120 participants (diagnosed with chronic periodontitis) divided into experimental (green tea extract) group and placebo group has found out that while the experimental group taking green tea extract had a dramatic improvement to periodontitis and overall dental health compared to the placebo group. While this is the only study of its kind, we have other good quality research showing all sorts of benefits of green tea and its extract for a variety of health systems, and as such, taking green tea extract for those struggling with chronic dental inflammation could be an option. As a form of prevention, simply drinking 3-4 cups of green tea per day may have very protective effects on our oral/dental health.
Oral Probiotics / Probiotic Mouthwashes
A 28-day interventional study has divided 50 subjects with diagnosed chronic periodontitis into two groups
Group 1 – Received active dental treatment + daily use of mouthwash containing Lactobacillus Salivarius NK02 used for 30 seconds after brushing
Group 2 - Received active dental treatment + placebo mouthwash (no probiotics/same taste) used for 30 seconds after brushing
Neither the participants nor the scientists nor the dentist examining the progress knew who was taking what.
So what happened? Dramatic improvement of dental health in the group taking the probiotic mouthwash. They had improved gingival index (less inflammation), periodontal disease index (better overall health of individual teeth and gums), as well as improved periodontal pocket depth (a marker of how much periodontitis has progressed). These are the sort of results that would be expected after a drastic (and expensive) dental treatment.
And while this was the first study of its kind, the participant group was tiny, and so far there is no commercial product containing Lactobacillus Salivarius NK02 available on the market, it shows a very promising finding and opens the door for future research and hopefully some useful merchandise available to the public.
Tongue Scraping Tongue scraping is a harmless technique of removing debris of dead bacteria from the tongue that may sometimes cause white tongue coating and smelly breath. A small study has found that those that scraped daily and used oral probiotics had complete eradication of halitosis (bad breath) while those that only scraped did not. It appears that scraping (removing old bacteria) and using probiotic mouthwash (replacing those bacteria with new good ones) can be an effective way to regain freshness of breath and good taste in the mouth (among other benefits).
Even without probiotics, I would advise adding tongue scraping to the daily oral care routine. Make sure to wash & disinfect the tool properly thou.
Summary & Key Points
The first line of excellent dental health is daily dental care consisting of brushing, flossing and (optional) tongue scraping. Make this a lifelong habit, and never go to bed without having brushed first.
If you experience daily bleeding, sensitivity, foul smell or gum recession, please seek out dental treatment without delay. The consequences of untreated dental infection for many years can be catastrophic.
Carbohydrates – Refined carbohydrates are bad for dental health. Replace pastries, cakes, croissants, white rice and white pasta with their wholegrain alternatives and legumes.
Fats – Reducing the intake of saturated fats from animal foods while increasing the intake of Omega 3 fatty acids from nuts, seeds, good quality plant oils, avocados, and oily fish will have a positive effect on overall dental health.
Vitamin D – Deficiency in vitamin D, if known, needs to be corrected as it may have adverse effects on overall dental health. If unsure, consider getting tested.
Other nutrients – deficiency in magnesium, calcium and zinc may also have adverse effects on dental health. A diet rich in legumes, whole grain products, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables and fruits should provide sufficient intake of all essential nutrients.
Green tea – a small study has shown the benefits of green tea extract in chronic periodontitis. Daily consumption of green tea (just regular tea, not an extract) can be a tremendous precautionary policy and a super healthy habit.