If the eye is the window to the soul, the mouth is the door to the body. Caring for your mouth can help keep your body healthy. Everything that you put in your mouth has an effect on the body, from the food you eat, what you drink, chewing, swallowing and smoking, it all goes into the mouth and then what? It goes via the stomach to the gut, which is really just and extension of a tube that starts with the mouth. It all affects how healthy your body is and whether it will suffer from chronic diseases, degenerative conditions, poor health and faster ageing. Think of gum disease, tooth loss, diabetes, heart disease and dementia, to name just a few,and they are all affected by what you put in your mouth and how you care for it.
What is healthy?
Soft supple lips, pale pink gums with clearly defined scalloped edges where the gums meet the teeth, “orange peel” stippling to the gums, clean teeth and a pink tongue with no furriness. This is what you might find in a healthy mouth, but unreality we are all given a variation on the ideal.
But some things are the same for everyone.
Your mouth is a unique environment, full of millions of bacteria, some good and some not so good. They live in a heirarchical society where there are lots of bacteria going about their daily business of feeding, eating and excreting. They are born, live, poop and reproduce in your mouth. The warm, moist conditions make it ideal for bacteria to thrive and you cannot live without them, you need them and they need you. However, you are the host and you need to have some control over what they do and not let them rampage in your mouth creating havoc (tooth decay, bad breath and gum disease). The bacterial colony in your mouth have many similarities to a human colony. They collect in family groups and build well-defined structures, just like the high-rise buildings of a large city. The saliva in the mouth flows between the bacterial colony just like the traffic flow in a city street.
Many of the bacteria are beneficial and have protective and useful properties. They help to provide the intial breakdown of food when eating, which starts the process of digestion. However, some bacteria are responsible for tooth decay and gum disease and how your body responds to this bacteria determines how it will affect you. It is a fine balance between good and bad bacteria and you want to promote the good and control the bad ones from damaging your teeth and gums. The longer the bad bacteria sit around the teeth and gums, the more damaging they become and this is why frequent oral hygiene is important. Each time you clean your teeth and gums properly you wipe the slate clean and the bad bacteria are subdued and the good bacteria recolonise.
The bacteria in the mouth live in a colony that produce a sticky white substance called dental plaque (biofilm). If all the plaque is not removed with good oral hygiene, the bacteria mature and attract more bacteria. The saliva in your mouth flows amongst the colony and deposits minerals, rather like a courier driving around the city streets and leaving parcels at the door. These mineral deposits which cling to the plaque (calculus or tartar) are soft and chalky and become harder with time and eventually set really hard and become yellow, then brown and eventually black. These hard deposits then attract more bacteria and more plaque which goes on building layer upon layer. If this hard deposit is in contact with or is below the gum it is very irritating to the gums which then become red, inflamed and bleed easily. At this point you might notice bleeding when you brush your teeth, which is the first sign of early gum disease (gingivitis) but is so often overlooked as normal because it is such a common problem. The deeper the tartar forms on the tooth and root surface, the more irritating it becomes to the body which takes a self defensive mechanism and starts to break down the bone that holds the teeth in the socket. Over time, this leads to the teeth becoming loose, although there may be little pain or discomfort at this stage. Once the bone loss is advanced the bone of the jaw can no longer support the tooth and it becomes even more loose and has to be removed. This more advanced gum disease is called Periodontitis.
What is the relationship between healthy mouth and a healthy body?
The association between poor oral health and diabetes, heart disease, dementia, low birthweight and preterm babies as well as a whole raft of other chronic diseases has long been known by health professionals. A healthy mouth with no stagnant bacteria or chronic inflammation can prevent some chronic diseases. A similar bacteria found in the oral plaque can be found in the blood vessels of the heart. The bacteria in the mouth can upset the delicate balance of health or disease and can add to the problems of some serious health issues. Similarly, if you have heart disease, obesity, diabetes you are more likely to have a problem with an unhealthy mouth.
So, what can you do about it ?
Really good oral hygiene, a diet low in sugar and acid, avoiding smoking, and having regular dental care. Not only will this help you to care for your mouth, it will also help to care for your body.