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Nutrition and Oral Health

What goes on in the mouth has a lot to do with the general health of the body. Research is showing that many of our degenerative diseases such as heart disease may have connections to our oral health. This is a huge subject, and thus this article cannot go into all the aspects of oral hygiene. We will, however, look at certain aspects of oral health and the nutrients necessary for the prevention of gum disease, infections, and bone loss.

As stated in an article from Nutrition Science News, and I quote, “The visible tooth is simply an enamel coating that covers a softer tissue underneath called the dentin. The middle of the tooth is a pulp cavity containing nerve endings and blood vessels. Under the gum line, the dentinis is covered with cementum, a substance similar to bone. The part of the jaw that contains tooth sockets is called alveolar bone with which teeth are anchored with ligaments. The inside of the mouth and gums are made of epithelial tissue. The saliva is alkaline in nature and buffers acidity, remineralizes the teeth, washes away food, begins digestion, and has immune properties”.

According to Dr. Hal Huggins, DDS, dental problems such as cavities, infections, toxic or allergy producing filling materials, root canals, and misalignments of the teeth or jaw can have far reaching effects throughout the body. Researchers from the National Institute of Health in conjunction with the State University Of New York presented at the 1999 Conference on Cardiovascular Disease, Epidemiology and Prevention stated that bleeding gums and deep pockets between the gum tissue and the bone increased the risk of cardiovascular and coronary hearth disease and strokes. Some of the most common causes would include: Unerupted teeth, wisdom teeth (both impacted and unimpacted), and amalgam filled cavities, root canals, cysts, and bone inflammations.

Of course, we have heard from our dentists that proper preventive measures of regular brushing, flossing, and dental visits will help reduce gum disease; and it may also help prevent heart disease.

Periodontal gum disease takes two forms and affects nearly half of the U.S. adult population. Simple gum inflammation with the presence of bacteria is called gingivitis; but when it becomes more severe, it is called periodontitis. These conditions can lead to bone loss with subsequent loss of teeth.

Let’s look at the role of nutrition when we deal with oral health: Minerals play an important role. Some of the necessary ones would include calcium, magnesium, zinc, silica, boron and iron. Many vitamins also play an important role and would include: Vitamin C, D, K, A, B2, B3, B6, B12 and folic acid. Deficiencies of these can lead to bone loss, inflamed gum tissues, sores in the mouth, loss of taste, dry mouth, bad breath, sore tongue and thrush (yeast infections). Supplementing specific nutrients especially when there is dental disease has been shown to have benefits.

Since bacteria are a major player in oral health, let us look how we can prevent bacterial overgrowth and minimize its detrimental effects. The first step is to remove bacteria mechanically, particularly after meals and at bedtime. Cleaning the tongue with a device called a tongue scraper helps. Using specific herbal products as mouthwash, rinses and toothpastes with antibacterial compounds is a good start. Some good herbals that have shown promise would include:

  • Bloodroot – It has been used for over 100 years in dental care. Recently it has been shown to prevent bacteria from sticking to newly formed plaque and thus reduces inflammation. It is not to be taken by itself since it can be toxic in large doses. It is usually added in small amounts to already prepared products.
  • Calendula – An anti-inflammatory used to soothe swollen gums
  • Goldenseal – Contains the antibacterial compound berberine and is a potent deterrent to gum disease. It also has the ability to reduce pain and swollen gums. A mouthwash made from the root in tea form is very effective. I used this herb as a wash when I had my wisdom teeth removed to prevent dry sockets.
  • Myrrh – Is a herb that dates back to biblical times. It is a potent antibacterial agent known to kill staph and strep germs. It is found in gargles, toothpastes and rinses.
  • Tea tree oil – Is strongly antiseptic and has the ability to kill bacterial that may be resistant to other antimicrobials. Research shows eight components present that are effective against bacteria. (I use a chewing stick permeated with tea tree and mint for breath freshening and reducing bacteria).

I’m sure there are many other herbs that can benefit our oral health. Look for the above-mentioned substances in dental products if you are looking to prevent or treat certain conditions.

Another important nutrient involved in oral nutrition is a substance I recently wrote about –CO Q10. According to Dr. Edward Wilkinson, periodontal specialist and researcher investigating gum disease, marked deficiencies of Co Q10 are found in diseased gums. There has been research done with patients taking oral CO Q10 at a 60 mg dosage. Reports after three weeks showed improvement that took into account a number of factors including gingival pocket depth, swelling, bleeding, redness, pain, exudates and looseness of teeth. It cannot be advertised as a medical treatment for gum disease due to lack of FDA approval for such use. It is safe and non-toxic according to Dr. Karl Folker, the researcher of CO Q10.

Some other considerations when it comes to oral health are the issues of mercury amalgam filling material and the use of fluoride. There is not enough room in this article to go in depth, but I think these are two areas that need more research. The ADA supports the use of these substances even though there is mounting evidence that some people will have problems with them. I will address these topics in a future follow-up article.

Article by herbalist Dave Hawkins, MH, CNC

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