A healthy mouth is the key to a healthy body and mind. Here’s why.

Poor oral health can lead to tooth or gum decay, which is linked to many health conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, digestive issues, memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

The good news is, taking care of our mouth can protect us from a host of infections, chronic illnesses, and mental health conditions. Brushing, flossing, and regular visits to the dentist helps ensure the health of our mouth is always optimal.

How does oral health affect our body and mind? 

Research shows that our mouth, body, and mind have a close connection. If one is unhealthy, the others can be affected. The mouth-body-mind connection is based on the billions of bacteria in our mouth. Don’t worry—that’s a good thing. Having a diverse range of bacteria thriving in our mouth is what keeps us healthy. 

Every time we eat or drink, bacteria from the mouth make their way into our digestive system, also known as the gut. When we are healthy, this does not matter; however, an imbalance in our oral bacteria from tooth or gum decay can lead to a host of problems. Harmful bacteria can travel from our mouth to our gut and irritate it, causing inflammation. 

Our gut does more than digest our food. It has trillions of bacteria that regulate our immune system, produce essential vitamins and hormones, help us sleep, manage our stress, and much more. Any imbalance in the bacterial colonies in the gut can cause inflammation. Gut inflammation lowers our immunity and is an underlying factor in many chronic illnesses like arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, diabetes, heart disease, and mental health conditions. An inflamed gut can affect our mood and increase our risk of anxiety and depression. Gut inflammation can even cause us to lose focus or experience memory loss

Oral health is often a window into the overall health of our body. If our oral health is disrupted, there is a high chance that there may be something wrong elsewhere in the body. For example, people with diabetes often have gum (periodontal) disease. And people with gum disease have trouble controlling their blood sugar.

‘Bad’ bacteria from gum disease can also travel to various organs through the blood. They can enter the brain and cause inflammation that can destroy nerve cells. This can lead to memory issues, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Oral bacteria can also journey to the heart through the bloodstream, add to plaque build-up in our arteries, and play a role in clot formation.

How does physical and mental health affect oral health? 

Having diabetes can cause dry mouth, and reduced amounts of the cleansing, lubricating and antibacterial factors in saliva are a common precursor to periodontal disease. Additionally, an imbalance in gut bacteria (and in turn an imbalance in the oral bacterial flora) can cause mild inflammation in our gums, known as gingivitis. It is exacerbated by increasing deposits of dental plaque, the bacterial film that develops on our teeth. If untreated, gingivitis may lead to more severe gum disease called periodontitis- with bone loss and eventual mobility and loss of teeth. Gut inflammation in the same way can also lead to tooth decay through imbalance in oral bacteria favouring acid-producing bacteria and leading to acid dissolving the mineral structure of the teeth. Because gut inflammation weakens our immunity, we may find it difficult to fight off oral infections, meaning minor imbalances can quickly manifest into more severe localised or systemic infection.

Our state of mind can also affect our oral health. 

The food we eat when stressed can directly impact our oral health. Yes, we’re looking at you buttery steak and cheese pie, chips, chocolate and ice cream. As delicious as they are, if eaten often, foods rich in refined carbs and sugars can lead to a bacterial imbalance in our mouth and cause plaque to build up. Stress can even cause oral trauma from grinding our teeth too hard. Additionally, when we feel anxious, our body releases the stress hormone, cortisol. Too much cortisol can make our immune system weak and increase the potential for a bacterial infection of the gums or tooth decay.  

Individuals with depression may find it harder to maintain a routine of oral hygiene and visits to the dentist. Unfortunately, this can turn into a cycle where poor oral health may eventually lower self-esteem, intensify social isolation, and further aggravate depression.   

An integrated, holistic approach for mouth-body-mind health 

There is an intricate web of connections between our mouth, body, and mind. If one is affected, the others are too. But somewhere along the line, medicine became compartmentalized. Dentists focused on oral health, gastrointestinal specialists treated digestive issues, and psychiatrists worked on the mind. 

Dental health professionals who focus on an integrated approach to treating the mouth, body, and mind are at the frontlines of disease detection and preventive medicine. At Dental Holistix, we will routinely assess not only the presence and severity of disease, but look at systemic disease and inflammatory processes and how these are interrelated. Identifying tooth decay and gum disease early, removing plaque build-up, and practicing good oral hygiene can help us lower inflammation and live healthier and happier lives. 

What causes dry lips, and how can you treat them? Does lip balm actually help?

People have been trying to figure out how to fix dry lips for centuries. Using beeswax, olive oil and other natural ingredients have been reported as early as Cleopatra’s time, around 40 B.C.

In 1833, there were even reports of human earwax being recommended as a successful remedy for dry, cracked lips. Not long after, the first commercial lip balms hit the market.

So what causes dry lips, and which lip balms actually help? The key is to avoid lip balms that contain certain additives which might worsen the problem.

They need to be soft but resilient

Our lips are constantly exposed to the elements, such as sunlight, wind, dry air, and cold weather. They have to withstand our daily lifestyle, including contact with food, cosmetics, biting, picking, rubbing against clothes, kissing and more.

So, although they look soft and fleshy, our lips need to be resilient and tough.

Lips sit at the junction where our outside facial skin transitions into the tissue layers lining the mouth. As such, the lips are structured similar to mucous membranes, but with the addition of a protective outside layer of skin. Lips don’t have hair follicles, or sweat, saliva and oil glands.

This unique structure means they’re particularly prone to dryness as they have a much lower ability to hold water than the rest of the face’s skin.

What causes dry lips?

Many of us get dry lips at certain times of the year. This can occur naturally, or be brought on by many different factors, including:

  • Inflamed lips, known as cheilitis. This can be due to a skin condition, or an infection such as herpes or cold sores
  • Allergies
  • Medications which impact the salivary glands, the mouth’s surrounding muscles, or sensations throughout the lip area
  • Tongue injuries, teeth that rub against the lips, or other dental issues
  • Poor oral health. This can be brought on by general neglect, eating disorders, or bad oral hygiene habits
  • Burns, such as eating food that’s too hot, or sunburn. Burns can result in the lips swelling, scarring and blistering, and it may take a long time for the pain to alleviate some diseases or disorders, such as Sjögren’s syndrome
  • Dehydration, heat stroke, fever, or excessive heat
  • Nasal congestion, which leads to chronic mouth-breathing. This can sometimes be a result of illness, such as when you have a common cold
  • Cold weather or cold wind that runs along the lips and removes moisture
    Persistent licking, which can create a wet-dry cycle that excessively dries out your lips.

The dryness can also lead to pain, itching or stinging.

If dry lips start causing serious issues, it may be helpful to discuss this with a medical professional.

How can you treat dry lips?

It’s important to identify what’s causing dry lips. If it’s due to lip licking, then you need to make habitual changes to stop the practice. If it’s due to cold, windy or dry weather, then certain balms and ointments can help protect the lips.

Drinking adequate amounts of water can assist, because this helps prevent dry skin in general.

If this isn’t enough, bland, non-irritating, unflavoured lip balms can help, as they act as a film covering the lip surface, keeping moisture in.

In many cases these use petroleum jelly as a base (although it’s not required), along with refined mineral oils to remove any hazardous compounds, and other ingredients that can assist in retaining and maintaining a barrier function.

In the race to appeal to consumers, cosmetic manufacturers have trialed a number of new ingredients in their lip balms. Popular lip balms often contain additives which can make the balm smell or taste nice, or soften the feel when it rubs against the lips.

Some of these extra ingredients can help. For example, if you’re out in the sun a lot, lip balm with included sunscreen is a great addition.

Products to avoid

In many cases, these compounds provide the feeling of immediate relief on the lips but don’t actually help with the barrier function. And in some cases, they can become irritants and even worsen the dryness.

When choosing a lip balm, try to avoid products containing these ingredients:

  • Fragrances
  • Flavours, such as mint, citrus, vanilla, and cinnamon
  • Shiny glosses, which can intensify damage from the sun’s rays
  • Colours, which can cause irritation and do nothing to assist the barrier function
  • Menthol, phenol or salicylic acid, which can actually make your lips drier
  • Additional, unnecessary ingredients such as camphor, lanolin, octinoxate, oxybenzone or propyl gallate.

And be sure to stop biting, picking or excessively licking your lips.

Staying hydrated and applying a bland lip balm should be a routine incorporated into your every day lifestyle for healthy, protected, and moisturised lips.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Four foods that dull your smile

A set of dazzling pearly whites is the best accessory we can have but consuming certain foods and beverages in excess can do more harm than good to our teeth. Products high in sugar or starch, especially when consumed regularly or excessively, can create optimal breeding grounds for plaque build-up. Here are four foods to be mindful.

1. Chips and other snacks that go crunch
While they make our taste buds happy, beware of foods that go ‘crunch’. Potato chips are made of starch that tends to hide in between our teeth and carbs that linger are an open invitation for bacterial growth.

2. Fizzy drinks, sports & energy drinks
While soft drinks are a somewhat obvious offender, not many people realise that sports and energy drinks also contain sugar. The combination of sugar, carbonation and acids can cause damage to our pearlers.

3. Dried/pickled fruit or veges
The longer a sugary or acidic item stays in your mouth the more damage it does. Even though its natural, the sugar content combined with the sticky texture of dried fruit in particular means it clings to our teeth, overstaying its welcome.

4. Citrus fruits and juices
While being rich in vitamin C, proceed with caution as fruit that is high in natural sugars and acids, such as lemon or oranges, can erode our tooth enamel over time. Moderation is key!