Oral health is directly linked to general health in several ways, so by sharing some important information on this subject, I hope to encourage joined up thinking in our future health professionals, true to Nutritank’s mission to empower and educate.
Dental disease (dental decay and gum disease) is a leading cause of disability worldwide, negatively impacting nutrition, speech, mental health and quality of life. Alarmingly, dental decay is wholly preventable, so with people’s increased appetite for protecting their own health, there has never been such an important time to anchor the message of diet and nutrition and to deliver education in prevention.
The oral microbiome is the gateway to the gut and there are direct links between the oral and gastrointestinal mucosa. Imbalances in the oral microbiome can give rise to a statistically increased chance of developing Inflammatory Bowel Disease or exacerbate symptoms in existing cases. There is also robust evidence that gum disease (periodontitis) is an independent risk factor and comorbidity for several chronic inflammatory diseases, such as type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
A diet that nurtures the oral microbiome will also have a positive impact on general health. In oral health, a symbiosis with the host is in play. A diet with a long-term high frequency of extrinsic (free) sugars over the course of a day leads to a drop in pH of the biofilm of bacteria that adheres to the tooth surface. This drives pathogenic bacterial selection, causing the swing from symbiosis to dysbiosis to occur, giving rise to dental decay.
It is important to be able to identify extrinsic sugars, as they are often hidden in foods we would not expect. Essentially, intrinsic sugars are present in natural, whole food sources, contained within a fibrous matrix of cells, like fresh fruit and vegetables. Extrinsic sugars are free sugars, released from their protected intrinsic form through processing, whether that be juicing, drying or freezing. Extrinsic sugars are also “added’ sugars, like those found in flavoured yoghurts, cakes and biscuits or natural sugars like honey or maple syrup. Being mindful of these hidden ‘free’ sugars is key; exercising moderation and being able to navigate through mixed marketing messages, by checking labels on packaged foods.
There is established evidence that diet can modulate periodontal (gum) disease and that nutrition extends to a vital role of down regulation in many chronic inflammatory conditions, including periodontal disease. Antioxidants, especially alpha-lipoic acid, along with omega-3 fatty acids show evidence-based improvement on our baseline inflammatory status. Similarly, foods rich in refined carbohydrates are a major cause of chronic inflammation. Therefore, to support and nourish the oral microbiome, eat a diet that includes a large variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, whilst being low in refined carbohydrates and eat oily fish regularly. A nutrient-rich diet also has a protective role in reducing oral cancer risk.
I love Nutritank’s mission to increase nutrition and lifestyle education as it’s at the heart of holistic health and I share the passion for preventative medicine. Thank you for your interest in the dental perspective!