Many patients look at me like I’m crazy when I start asking questions about their diets or lifestyle choices when it comes to food. They either don’t want to talk about it at all or very sparingly and want to change the subject as quickly as possible. People do not expect to walk into a dental office for their cleaning and exam and expect to be asked about what they normally eat for breakfast of if they have breakfast at all.
Word has gotten out that periodontal disease, heart disease, type II diabetes, cancers, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s disease, eczema, asthma, autoimmune diseases such as Lupus and arthritis, etc., have one common cause: inflammation. In doing research for this blog post I was reminded that acute inflammation is a necessary job of our immune systems. Inflammation on the surface of the body (from a cut or sore) expresses itself as local redness, heat, swelling and pain. We all need this in order to heal. Our immune systems’ cells bring more nourishment and more immune activity to a site of injury or infection. However, when inflammation persists or no longer serves a purpose, it damages the body and expresses itself as a chronic condition or disease. Anti-inflammatories are also the most common drug type prescribed in the US. They are used for many different chronic problems including arthritis, heart disease and hypertension. While these medications may provide relief, long-term use of some anti-inflammatory medications such as NSAIDs and steroids can cause unwanted side effects (tummy problems after three weeks with continued use of Ibuprofen), or actually weaken our immunity (prolonged use of steroids).
Dental professionals are usually great at educating patients on gum disease; the probable cause, its effect on oral health, and how to best prevent continued tissue/bone destruction. But the conversation usually ends there. The patient has sat back up and now is rinsing away not only the tooth polish in their mouths but also most of the information of what is causing their gums to bleed when flossing. Oral HEALTH needs to be stressed; not just in saying there is an oral-systemic link, but acknowledging that there isn’t really a need for that distinction because the body is a complete system. Unfortunately, most have not made this connection yet, so baby steps. I’ll keep using the phrase “oral-systemic link” in my explanation of what is going on in my patient, because how we treat our mouths truly affects our bodies, and what we put into our bodies truly effects our mouths.
We all know that nutrition plays a major part in the recommendations for treating heart disease and diabetes, decreasing salt and sugar. Learning how specific foods influence the inflammatory process is the best strategy for containing inflammation and reducing long-term disease risks. For example, adding almonds (sliced/diced to protect the teeth), asparagus, avocados, basil and beans, to name very few, to our meals may, over time, help us lose weight, but also increase our energy and, most importantly, make us less sick.