The link between our dental health and our general wellness is a strong one, for two reasons.
Firstly, our mouth is the main entry into our body of anything – good or bad – and therefore plays an important role in keeping our body healthy.
Secondly, the condition of our mouth itself affects the condition of the rest of our body.
Holistic dentistry seeks to maintain harmony within the body by respecting and addressing both aspects of the relationship between our oral health and our overall wellness.
Let’s take these aspects one at a time.
1. The mouth as entry point
The beneficial things that enter our bodies through the mouth are nutritious foods. The detrimental things are toxins such as tobacco and some medications.
Therefore good dental health starts with a healthy diet that limits sugars, especially of the refined type, and it is maintained by minimising toxins, including those delivered by smoking, medications and unprescribed drugs.
Any methods used to treat dental and oral diseases and the restorative materials used in those treatments are also extremely important as these methods and materials have a long life in the mouth. Holistic dentists avoid using materials that are toxic to the body, such as mercury amalgam. Instead they use biocompatible composite resin or restorations from pure porcelain. They also encourage the use of digital X-rays, which emit half as much radiation as conventional X-rays. Holistic dentistry is generally less invasive than conventional dentistry and encourages procedures such as dental implants to replace missing teeth, as implants are made of titanium – a very safe metal to use in the mouth.
2. The mouth as microclimate
The mouth has a rich nerve and blood supply and is full of bacteria. The bacteria that are linked to dental decay and periodontal disease, as well as the bacteria linked to systemic diseases, all increase in the absence of good oral hygiene and regular dental appointments. When these harmful bacteria get out of control they can cause serious gum infections, which provide an opportunity for bacteria to enter the bloodstream.
Severe dental caries can affect general wellbeing in people of all ages. In a child, for example, when eating and sleeping are disrupted due to discomfort and pain from infection, the result can be poor nutrition, which can in turn lead to impaired growth and development as well as missed school time and an increased possibility of hospitalisation if the condition is left untreated.
Untreated cavities and periodontal disease in adults are also known to contribute to general diseases such as diabetes and respiratory disease. If you have diabetes you are more susceptible to periodontal disease and in turn the presence of periodontal disease can make it more difficult to control your blood sugar. Moderate to severe periodontal disease may increase the blood sugar and it decreases the effects of insulin; therefore it increases your risks for diabetic complications.
Furthermore, the mouth can serve as a reservoir for bacteria that then make their way into the lungs and result in the subsequent development of bacterial pneumonia. Many studies have also indicated an association between serious gum disease and cardiovascular disease. It is thought that the increased bacteria associated with periodontal disease can form plaques in the arteries which can break off and become lodged in the heart or brain.
The big picture
The implications of oral health for our total wellbeing are not only physical, influencing how we grow, look, speak, chew and taste food, but also psychological, influencing how we socialise, our social wellbeing and how much enjoyment we get out of life.
When managing your overall health and wellness it is therefore very important to attend to your dental health. This can be achieved with good nutrition, limiting the toxic substances you allow into your mouth (and thus into your body), good oral hygiene and regular checkups with your dentist and dental hygienist.