You get up every morning… you cook up your bacon and eggs and brew a pot of coffee… and then you’re ready to start your day.
But I hope that before the sleep completely clears from your head and the hustle and bustle of everyday life takes over, you take some time to take care of your mouth.
We’re so focused on what we put into our mouths in terms of the food we eat and the beverages we drink – but most of us don’t give the insides of our mouths another thought until it’s mealtime again!
But taking care of your oral health – and not just your teeth, if you’ve still got them, but your gums, too – is an essential part of maintaining your overall health.
And if things aren’t looking so good in there when you open your trap to have a look, it’s time to do something about it right now.
Because in August of this year, a conventional medical journal published a study that linked poor oral health to having an increased risk of cancer.
And ladies, if you’re a little on the older side, you’re particularly at risk – especially if you’ve been diagnosed with gum (periodontal) disease.
Here’s what you need to know about the connection between your mouth and disease in the rest of your body – and what you can do to prevent it.
Are you breeding cancer… in your mouth?
Now, I’m not just talking about mouth cancer. There’s a lot more at stake than just your mouth when it comes to oral care and cancer.
The researchers behind this new study took data from Women’s Health Initiative, a long-running and large-scale study by the prestigious National Institutes of Health.1 This massive study started in 1991 and has been tracking and looking at the health and well-being of 65,000 older women.
Check out the exact word-for-word conclusion that the researchers published in this groundbreaking study: ‘Periodontal disease increases risk of total cancer among older women, irrespective of smoking, and certain anatomic sites appear to be vulnerable.’2
And that includes not only cancer in general, but also certain specific cancers such as lung, breast, oesophageal, gall bladder, and melanoma.
I am still in disbelief about what a game changer this is. The implications are HUGE at every level of prevention and treatment of cancer!
First, we can interpret this study to say that if you have poor gum health, then you’d better get your butt to the doctor more frequently to get screened for cancer.
Second, if your gum health is poor, you can also make some lifestyle changes and take more supplements geared at treating and preventing cancer.
Last but clearly not least, improving your gum health is a modifiable risk factor that you have control over – and, in theory, if you improve your gum health, you’ll lower your risk for the cancers listed above as well as cancer in general.
How cool is that?!
There is no doubt that this is a chicken-and-egg conversation that will be debated for a long time – because as enlightening as this study is, it does raise more questions than it answers.
Does cancer in the human body cause the gums to disintegrate and weaken? Or does poor gum health lead to weakened immunity and cancer growth?
We obviously don’t know the answer to this question, but my ‘two cents’ is that poor dental health leads to and breeds cancer!
Open up and say ‘aaahhh’
This strong link between gum health and cancer is an interesting subject for me to cover here in Nutrition & Healing because there are a few different ways to explain why this makes so much sense to an integrative medical doctor.
First of all, it’s not a stretch to say that if you have poor oral health… then the rest of your body could be unhealthy.
It’s almost common sense to think that if your MOUTH is unhealthy… then YOU
That’s why certain doctors (especially dentists) claim that looking at the gums is like peering through a ‘window’ to your insides. (And you thought your eyes were the window to your soul!)
What they really mean, of course, is that your gums are almost like a ‘report card’ for other ‘pink tissues’ in your body – such as the gut and heart.
There’s an infamous book called It’s All In Your Head that basically implies that the ROOT cause (pun intended) of most of your health issues comes from a dental issue.
The other way of looking at this subject is the ‘germ theory’. This is the philosophy that unhealthy gums and dental health result from chronic infections that are allowed to rot and fester in the mouth.
And that’s what this latest study found, too – that ‘periodontal pathogens’ (that is, gum germs) not only have been found in ‘precancerous and cancerous lesions’, but have shown to ‘promote a procarcinogenic microenvironment’.
In other words, this juicy titbit is saying that infections that really only live in the mouth can sneak into and invade other parts of your body… and cause cancer.
Or, to put it bluntly, gum disease causes cancer!
And at least two studies in the past have linked certain ‘bad bacteria’ in the mouth to colon cancer.3,4
Even your heart’s not safe from your germy gums
It’s not a total shocker that bacteria in the mouth can travel to other parts of the body (‘translocate’).
For many years, cardiologists and primary care doctors required patients with certain heart conditions take large dosages of antibiotics right before dental procedures (even just cleanings!) because of the bacteria that get ‘stirred up’ when the dentist mucks around in the mouth.
The theory was and still is that these bacteria can seed on the valves of the heart and cause permanent damage.
In recent years, the cardiology community has lessened its stance on this subject and only requires a much more select group of ‘heart patients’ to be pre-medicated with antibiotics prior to dental procedures.
For a great study published last year, Chinese researchers pooled together all the studies done on this subject and discovered that those with periodontitis were 2.5 times more likely to suffer heart attacks than those with healthy gums!5
In fact, the research is so sound that the American Heart Association even acknowledges this link between oral health and heart disease!6 (Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped the mainstream from pushing statins… and vehemently so.)
Fire in the hole!
There’s something else about this study that really rings true for me – and that’s the fact that systemic diseases like heart disease and cancer can be caused by bugs that come from the mouth because of the inflammation they cause.
Of course, the word ‘inflammation’ has been a hot-button topic in the integrative medical world for a long time – and, much to my delight, it’s quickly building up steam to become a major player in the eyes of the conventional medical community.
Among the studies that discuss the ‘translocation theory’ of these gum infections, however, there’s still some disagreement.
Some theorise that the gum infection in the mouth is the cause of the inflammation… and that inflammation reverberates through the whole body like a fire that starts in the attic and then goes downstairs and ruins the entire house.
The flip side of this theory is that the infection itself travels to an organ and takes up shop there, where it causes such ‘heat’ that it ‘burns’ the tissue. Over time, the cancer develops because the tissue is injured.
Honestly, I am not sure if I care which of these is true, because as an integrative doctor, I’ve found that treating ALL of these issues – inflammation, gum health, and chronic infections – can kill many birds with one stone.
The 5 pillars of integrative dentistry
I’ve learned the importance of the mouth and dental health after working with dentists who specialise in whole-body dentistry.
Now, just as I’m an integrative medical doctor who’s gone to medical school and gotten special training to look at the body differently than my conventional colleagues, there are also dentists who have gone to dental school and also gotten special training in holistic and integrative dentistry.
There are a few names for dentists such as this, but most of the time we refer to them as ‘integrative dentists’. And they look at the mouth TOTALLY differently than your regular dentists do.
Instead of just preventing cavities and ensuring you’ve got a pretty smile, they focus on the following 5 major issues that are crucial to your OVERALL health: Gum health is crucial.
Almost all root canals are ‘bad’, as they can leave small levels of infection in your jawbone and mouth that thus create inflammation and translocate infection.
Fluoride toothpaste and fluoridated water can cause many deleterious effects on your hormones and body.
You should have a ‘metal-free’ mouth
A proper and aligned ‘bite’ is crucial for optimal health – and, if the jaw and bite are out of alignment, it can cause multiple issues associated with ‘dental distress syndrome’. The entire body is ‘mapped out’ in the teeth, and each tooth is ‘linked’ to certain body parts and organs – the links of which are mapped out on something called a ‘meridian tooth chart’.
This is like the field of reflexology, in which the body is mapped out on the hands and feet and even eyes.
If you want to explore ‘cleaning’ up your mouth in an even more thorough manner than what your conventional dentist can do, an integrative dentist could give you a once-over and look at the state of your mouth and dental health and make some recommendations.
For instance, integrative dentists are specially trained to remove ‘silver’ fillings (which are really over 50 per cent mercury) properly and safely, minimizing your exposure to the mercury.
They also use special appliances to align your bite.
To find an integrative dentist in your area, two helpful websites you can visit are iabdm.org or holisticdental.org.
Cover the basics… and beyond
The most important thing for you to do right away, however, is to go to your regular dentist and ask what degree of periodontal disease you have (or what ‘grade’ he would give your gums).
Periodontal disease is so common… and dentists see it so frequently… that yours might not even be telling you how bad it is.
Fortunately, there are some easy and interesting things that you can do to make sure your dental health leads to better health overall. Some of them might seem a bit boring and obvious – but that’s because these tried-and-true mouth-savers WORK!
• Cut back on sugar.
• Brush your teeth and floss regularly.
• Wash your mouth out with hydrogen peroxide, an incredibly safe home remedy that’s also an effective ‘bug killer’. I recommend buying Essential Oxygen Brushing Rinse, which is food-grade hydrogen peroxide with some aloe vera and essential oils added in. It’s easy to use and works amazingly well.
Once you’ve got those routines down, you can try some more adventurous techniques to really maximise how healthy your mouth can be.
If you want to really dive deep into those nooks and crannies of your gums, try an ancient Ayurvedic technique called ‘oil pulling’ that involves swishing (or ‘pulling’) coconut or sesame oil throughout your mouth for five to 20 minutes. When you’re done, spit out in the bin instead of down the sink. (Don’t swallow it!)
The constituents of these different oils have cleansing, healing, and germicidal properties that claim to do everything from detoxifying your whole body… to whitening your teeth… to giving you healthier gums. And I like the idea that the oils are ‘massaging’ the gums and cleansing them as they kill and wash away infections.
Also, taking a daily anti-inflammatory such as curcumin can treat inflammation in your mouth as well as the rest of
Along those lines, if the root cause of many diseases is infection, then taking a daily germicidal herb is almost always a good idea. Therefore, I am a big fan of using herbs such as grapefruit seed extract, oil of oregano, or garlic to slowly but surely keep these infections in check.
And finally, in line with the holistic medical approach to the body, if you improve your other ‘pink’ tissues – and more specifically, those of your gut – you will also improve your gums.
Therefore, eating fermented foods and/or taking a probiotic is always a good start.
Wishing you the best of health,
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing
Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.