Healthy mouth, healthy body? You bet. The evidence is clear: the same dietary pattern that causes cavities and bleeding gums also leads to chronic disease. Read on to learn why your mouth is a window to your overall health, and what you can do to improve both.
If the Mouth Is Free of Tooth Decay, Is the Body Healthy?
We know that tooth decay is regarded as a sign of poor general health because its cause—high consumption of carbohydrates—also triggers systemic inflammation. If the mouth is healthy, will the body also be?
Well, that depends on what is substituted for all those carbohydrates.
If the diet is high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids like those found in vegetable oil, health is diminished. These oils are known to increase the risk of heart attack and premature death.
The health of our mouths is considered a reflection of the overall health of our bodies. When there is no tooth decay and no bleeding gums, this can be a reliable indicator of overall health.
Do Healthy People Have Fewer Oral Health Issues?
Yes, Dr. Weston Price observed primitive people all over the globe in the late 1930s eating a variety of foods, but excluding sugars and starches. These groups had mouths that were free of cavities and bleeding gums and were in very good general health. He found that a lack of dental disease is a reflective of a healthy body.
The results of several recent studies help to highlight these points. The first study looked at dental students and hygienists, a group known to practice good oral hygiene. These participants increased their carbohydrate consumption, and it was observed that more gum bleeding had occurred. Here, the increase in dietary carbohydrates was related to poor gum health.
The second study did just the opposite. It took all sugar out of the diet and no toothbrushing was allowed. The participants consumed an ancestral, or hunter-gatherer, diet. Even though dental plaque increased, gum bleeding was reduced. The removal of sugar from the diet allowed the gums to heal and the bleeding to stop—without brushing the teeth!
We can see that part of the nutrition problem is that sugar intake is related to increased gum bleeding. For healthier teeth and gums, we need to reduce or eliminate sugar. Doing so is also beneficial to our overall health.
Our bodies require other nutrients for improved health, but what are they?
I Don’t Want to Eat a Primitive Diet. What Can I Do?
A randomized controlled study was conducted to determine if micronutrient deficiencies affect gum health. The diet was supplemented with fruit, vegetables, and berry juice extract, and the participants were adults who appeared to be in good health. After two months there was a reduction in bleeding gums. Our gums—and our bodies—require micronutrients to achieve and maintain good health.
Vitamin D supplementation has also been found to be effective in reducing gum inflammation and promoting overall health. That leads to the question, what is the optimal human diet? This is an ongoing debate, but we have a good idea where to start.
What Should I Eat?
Based on the research that has been conducted in this area, the optimal diet for both dental and overall health has these characteristics:
- Low in carbohydrates, with the majority coming from non-starchy vegetables
- High in traditional fats and low in refined vegetables oils and omega-6 fatty acids
- Abundant in micronutrients
- Sufficient animal protein
Diets with these characteristics are associated with the absence of cavities and bleeding gums, both of which are indicators of good general health.