Oral Health and the Individual

We’ve all been told that brushing and flossing are the staples of oral health. Practice the routine on a twice-daily basis, and you will have healthy teeth and gums. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. You probably know someone who faithfully brushes, flosses, picks, irrigates and rinses, and still needs dental treatment or gets the admonition of “missing a spot.” You probably also know someone who doesn’t take care of their mouth and never has a cavity or any challenge with gum disease. It just doesn’t seem fair, does it?

After thirty years of working with peoples’ mouths and observing their health and dental habits, I have come to the conclusion that the old model for dental health is insufficient. We are missing the proverbial forest for the trees. Allow me to explain.

Let’s start by going back several decades. In the 1970’s several toothpaste companies (whose names shall be withheld) decided that we should brush regularly and visit the dentist every six months, that’s right, no scientific evidence, simply marketing dollars at work. Next, the insurance companies decided this was sufficient and agreed: “we will pay for cleanings twice a year” (I guess they had to draw the line in the sand somewhere). As a result, for most of our lifetime, we have been told to brush, floss, and see the dentist regularly and in doing so, we will never have a dental nor periodontal worry.

I posit that the picture is far more complex. I regularly see people that clearly work hard to keep their mouth clean, yet it is not healthy. I also see patients who are too lazy, busy, or apathetic and present with no tooth decay or periodontal issues. What gives?

Human beings are selectively reactive to things in their environment. We need to give more consideration to the individual’s host response by looking beyond the cavity, disease, or decay and focusing on the individual’s responsiveness (sensitivity) to the microbial invasion. To think about it another way, why does one person die from a bee sting and another hardly notices it? It all depends on the internal make-up of the individual.

To figure out why people react differently, we must look into the gut. If the gut lining (intestine) is not healthy, we are not healthy. The gums and teeth are no exception. Seventy percent of the immune system is in the gut, which explains much about food intolerances, allergies, leaky gut, Crohn’s disease, colitis and intestinal symptoms of bloating, gas, and constipation.

A healthy gut is the basis for a healthy body and mouth. We must start by choosing healthy food, such as colorful vegetables and high quality animal protein. Vegetables should be eaten raw or lightly cooked. To preserve the proteins and enzymes, meats should also be lightly cooked. Think about it anthropologically, this is the way our ancestors ate long before the days of refined sugars and fast food, little cooking, eat what is available right now.

Chewing our food is also very important. Too often we’re in a rush, on the run, in our car and we swallow food almost whole. What happened to the ceremonial moment, the sacred time for eating, with people close to us, with no other preoccupation of the moment? We have lost a certain honor for the body in not taking the time to choose, prepare, and savor this moment. Let’s slow down, set aside a time for eating, hold the moment of food choice, ingestion, and digestion as the sacred moment that it is to fully care for our bodies’ health.

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