Do your gums bleed when you brush your teeth? Do you catch yourself needing a mint throughout the day? These things are common, but not are big signs of a problem lurking in your mouth. Most people recognize the importance of taking care of their teeth, however taking care of your gums – the actual tissue holding your teeth into place – is also important. When infection settles into the gums, we call that periodontal disease, and it is extremely common. According to the American Dental Association, 75% of adult patients have some form of periodontal (or gum) disease. That doesn’t mean that it is no big deal. There are some major health issues that may arise from periodontal disease, including:
- Heart disease
- Stomach ulcers
- Pneumonia and other respiratory diseases
- Chronic kidney disease
- Difficulties during pregnancy, early term births, and low birth weights
- And many others!
Recent studies suggest that pregnant women with gum disease are seven times more likely to deliver preterm, low birth weight babies. New research finds that men with gum disease have a higher risk of certain cancers: men which gum disease are 49% more likely to develop kidney cancer, 54% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer, and 30% more likely to develop blood cancers. For this reason, periodontal disease can be the first warning sign of the body being out of balance leading to more serious problems.
There are also additional factors that may lead to a higher risk of gum disease. These include smoking or chewing tobacco, puberty and menopause in women, pregnancy, stress or depression, clenching or grinding your teeth, diabetes, osteoporosis, poor nutrition and diet, obesity, even some medications.
Some of the warning signs you should look for:
- Do your gums bleed easily?
- Are your gums red, swollen, or tender?
- Have your gums pulled away from your teeth?
- Do you have severe bad breath and bad breath that just won’t go away?
- Do you have a constant bad taste in your mouth?
- Do you have teeth that are loose or separating?
- Has there been any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite down?
- Have you had any change in the fit of your dentures?
If you said yes to any of these questions, it’s time to visit your dentist!
If your mouth is healthy, there is a high probability your overall health is good, too. On the other hand, if you have poor dental health, it may be an indication of other health problems, such as the following:
- Bad breath and bleeding gums can be an indication of diabetes;
- Dental x-rays may show the first stages of bone loss, arthritis, and/or osteoporosis;
- Open lesions or other signs of oral and dental infections can be an indication of heart disease or HIV.
Research shows that more than 90 percent of all systemic diseases have oral manifestations such as swollen gums, dry mouth, swollen gums or other gum problems. These diseases include some of the following:
- Oral cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
However, the reverse is true as well; hidden issues in your mouth can cause health problems in the rest of your body as well. Dental problems can contribute to overall health issues in many ways:
- Infections in the gums and/or jawbone: toxins can leak out from these infections and may affect your immune system, leading to disease.
- The relationship between specific teeth and illness: when a tooth becomes infected or diseased, the organ on the same acupuncture meridian can also become unhealthy.
- Root canals can be a source of disease. Root canals are dead organs left in your mouth. Toxins can seep out of the root canal teeth and can cause systemic diseases of the heart, kidney, uterus, and the nervous and endocrine systems.
- Toxicity of dental materials used: dental materials can release mercury, tin, copper, silver, nickel and zinc into the body, which can then migrate from the tooth into the bones, connective tissues and nerves. From there, they can travel to the central nervous system, where they can permanently disrupt the body’s normal functions.
- Galvanic charges from the metals in your mouth: saliva in the mouth acts as a conduit in which dissimilar metals can create electric charges within your mouth.
- Bio-compatibility to dental materials: in the same way some people have adverse reactions to drugs or allergies to foods or other substances, some people react negatively to specific dental materials which can lead to severe allergic reactions and can contribute to a multitude of chronic health problems.
- TMJ and other alignment problems: TMJ dysfunction may cause misalignment of your teeth, jaws and muscles in your face which can affect your neck, spine, hips and other joints in your body. Similarly, your tongue can simply lie in the wrong position causing a multitude of health issues. These dysfunctions can be caused by trauma to the body, such as a sports injury or car accident, or they can be caused by dental restorations that do not adequately support a person’s bite.
Traditional dentistry has often taken the approach that the teeth are separate from a person’s overall health, and in fact, people often procrastinate going to the dentist because they feel other health issues may be more pressing. The truth is that your dentist should be a part of your overall health care team. Good dental health and overall health go hand in hand. Some key prevention measures include:
- Give your body the proper nutrition it needs to stay healthy and actively protect against oral and overall health problems;
- Just say no to putting toxins in your body, including sugar, tobacco smoke, fluoride, and mercury and other toxic materials;
- Maintain proper dental and oral care by brushing, flossing, and caring for your teeth and gums, including regular visits to your dentist.
I encourage you to inform yourself and start looking at dental care as part of an overall health program. I want you to be actively involved in the care you receive and you should demand proper care and treatment. In subsequent posts, I will explain key dental treatments, including the use of non-toxic restorative materials, looking for and removing sources of dental toxins and hidden dental infections, and preventative measures you can take as part of your overall health care routine.