By Michael G. Rehme, DDS, NMD, CCN, FIAOMT
Through recent decades, I’ve witnessed dramatic changes starting to reshape the dental profession. Although continual improvement occurs in technologies and technical skills, there is a new “old” concept that is slowly gaining credibility in dentistry. It also requires your attention to understand the “tooth and body connection.”
In fact, numerous dental articles and medical reviews have been published regarding the health connections between the oral cavity – i.e. the teeth and gums – and the rest of the body. Still, I don’t believe this topic is receiving nearly as much attention or credence as it deserves in the field of dentistry.
Nor is it anything shockingly new.
Back in 1945, Weston Price, DDS wrote in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration that streptococcus and other pathogens found in the mouth were causing inflammatory and infectious events throughout the entire body.
In 1949, Melvin Page, DDS, stated that “disease in not due to the presence of bacteria, but rather to the body being out of balance in such a way that the bacteria responsible for the inflammation are breeding out of control. Killing the bacteria is not the answer. Placing the body back in balance is a much more effective method of treatment.” [emphasis added]
In the early 1970s, the American Heart Association issued a health alert to the dental community to give pretreatment antibiotics to all patients who had heart disease, rheumatic fever, or mitral valve prolapse. Roughly thirty years later, the American Academy of Periodontology stated that oral bacteria can affect the heart when they enter the bloodstream.
Researchers have found that people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease as those without periodontal disease. “In recent years,” says a 2005 white paper from Colgate on oral inflammation, “increasing evidence has supported the concept that the relationship between systemic and oral health is bi-directional.”
A systemic imbalance is one that affects the health of the whole body. The oral cavity provides us with much information. It may help, and in some cases may be the critical missing link, to understanding your overall health and wellness. This may be especially true for chronic conditions that don’t seem to have any answers.
The key for dentists and the patient is to recognize and know what to do with the information provided by the oral cavity.
What does it tell me when I see a patient with compromised periodontal conditions, tooth decay, and generalized inflammation? Conventional wisdom says the dentist should treat this as a local condition which typically means more frequent dental visits, improved home care techniques – i.e., better flossing and brushing – usually some antibiotics, root planing and scaling, and sometimes even surgical procedures.
I believe these are all symptoms of a systemic condition. Therefore, in addition to the oral cavity, it becomes imperative to evaluate the chemistry of the body, e.g. its chemical levels and pH, indicating an acidic or alkaline orientation. It becomes imperative to evaluate the nutritional needs and make recommendations based on the body’s own signals.
What does this indicate about the role of dentistry? As the mouth is gateway to the body, dentists can be the gatekeepers to good health! Everything begins in the oral cavity. What we eat and what we drink enters one’s body through the mouth. Our first line of defense and our initial immune responses begin in the mouth.
If there are imbalances in the mouth, inflammation, red, puffy, bleeding gums, tooth decay, sensitive teeth, halitosis, root canals, or missing teeth, there may well be imbalances in other parts of your body that aren’t even obvious.
As a patient, you should be aware of these possibilities and take control of your health!
Updated from the original