It all starts with chewing…I know that is rather cliché, especially because I am a dentist. Regardless, it is true. Our digestive tract is basically one long tube that works intricately to extract nutrition from the foods we eat and get them into our bloodstream for nourishment. Mashing food up and swallowing it down our gullet kicks the whole process off. Our pearly whites are used for more than smiling, biting fingernails, and taking tags off new clothes. They are imperative in the initial breakdown of what we eat, so we can ensure an effective and efficient digestion process. A balanced chewing system needed to perform this function is near and dear to my heart. It is my professional focus. Family and friends will confirm how much I love to talk about teeth and how to fix them, but for this blog post, I am going to sidetrack from that notion and talk more about the foods we eat instead.
My interest in the science of nutrition and diet began in my undergraduate studies at Michigan State University. In 2005 I received a bachelor’s degree in this subject matter and have been fascinated with the topic of food as medicine ever since. In my opinion, modern American society has relied on the science of medicine to treat symptoms of problems and largely ignore the “root cause” (pun intended) of many disease processes. Only treating symptoms and ignoring systemic etiologies brought about by lifestyle and food choices is very troublesome. These situations can perpetuate and even create disease itself while lowering one’s ability to achieve positive degrees of wellness. I passionately believe that “we are what we eat” and more profoundly, “we are what we eat, ate.” Creating balance in our lifestyle/exercise choices and what/when we eat creates a path to physical, mental, and emotional wellness and your dentist can help!
The soft tissue of the mouth is a form of mucous membrane and is permeable to early digestive products and many medications. This is a fancy way of saying that the inner lining of your mouth is where digestion/absorption of food and certain medications begin. In emergency situations where IV access is not an option, dissolving a medication under the tongue is the fastest way to get a substance into your blood stream other than inhalation through the lungs. Our mouth is very connected to our systemic “whole body” health and the food we eat directly impacts both.
Dental professionals do a decent job educating patients on preventive care that directly applies to common problems of the oral environment. We are obsessed and even “narrow-minded” on food and substances that act directly on the oral environment and almost never explain to patients how food and lifestyle work indirectly on it. Great emphasis is placed on simple carbohydrates (sugar) advancing chronic cavity problems and the lack of proper hygiene after meals and before bed accelerating gum disease. These are especially important points, but they are not the whole equation. Proper nutrition can help lower your bodies inflammatory response to bacteria that cause gum disease, and correctly timing your meals and adding probiotics could heal your gut, reduce acid reflux and lower the pH of your mouth to reduce the risk of dental decay. Healthy airway and nasal breathing can strengthen one’s immune system and ensure that the sleep is of good quality.
There are many reasons our digestive tracts are not working properly. A few common problems are food sensitivities, poorly functioning or inadequate digestive enzyme production, insufficient levels of good gut bacteria, too much bad gut bacteria, exposure to toxins in highly processed foods or inadequate resistance to these toxins, and many more. Digestive health is paramount in one’s ability to achieve overall wellness, but it is especially important in maintaining good oral health. For a more detailed conversation about this topic, please schedule an appointment so we can discuss an individual oral health and wellness plan for you!
Andrew Hamilton D.D.S., F.A.GD.