Dental Dedication: Improve Your Oral Health
- A well-balanced oral microbiome is important for optimal health. Periodontal disease and Type 2 diabetes are strongly connected. Twice-daily use of mouthwash has also been linked to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes — an effect thought to be due to its antimicrobial activity
- Good oral hygiene has been shown to lower your risk of pneumonia by about 40 percent, and failing to brush twice a day increases your risk of dementia by 65 percent compared to brushing three times a day
- When bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease enter your circulatory system, your liver releases inflammatory C-reactive proteins; chronic inflammation, in turn, is a hallmark of most chronic disease
- A comprehensive oral health plan includes addressing your diet, reducing your net carb intake and, if needed, taking nutritional supplements that support your oral health
- Other components of a comprehensive oral care plan include brushing daily with non-fluoridated toothpaste or a homemade toothpaste, daily flossing and oil pulling
By Dr. Mercola
It’s unfortunate how many fail to fully appreciate the importance oral health has on their overall health. The fact of the matter is, the delicate balance of bacteria in your mouth is as important to your health as your gut microbiome. When certain bacteria become overabundant, various oral problems start to develop.
Periodontal disease, for example, which affects the soft tissues and bone, is initiated by an increase in Porphyromonas gingivalis, which impairs your immune response, while dental caries had been causally linked to Streptococcus mutans.1 Your oral health, in turn, impacts the rest of your body, and can have a significant impact on your disease risk.
Type 2 diabetes and periodontal disease are strongly connected, for example.2 Research also shows that failing to brush twice a day increases your risk of dementia by as much as 65 percent, compared to brushing three times a day, and good oral hygiene has been shown to lower your risk of pneumonia by about 40 percent.3
When bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease enter into your circulatory system, your liver releases C-reactive proteins, which have inflammatory effects. Inflammation, in turn, is known to be a disease-causing force leading to most chronic illness. For example, inflamed and diseased gums may raise your risk of a fatal heart attack by up to 10 times.
What’s worse, according to Dr. Gerry Curatola, founder of Rejuvenation Dentistry, heart attacks related to gum disease are fatal 9 times out of 10. So, a major part of oral health is attending to your oral microbiome. If you’ve been lax about your oral health, make this the year you grab the proverbial bull by the horn and really make an effort to address the health of your mouth.
Ditch Mouthwashes and Fluoridated Toothpaste to Improve Your Oral Microbiome
Your oral microbiome is like your gut microbiome in the sense that it needs to be well-balanced in order to support optimal health. Even otherwise harmless bacteria can have pathogenic effects if the balance gets too disrupted. However, while ingesting probiotics will improve the balance of bacteria in your gut, this strategy does not work for your oral cavity. Instead, the key to improving your oral microbiome is, first and foremost, to cease the indiscriminate killing of microbes in your mouth.
This means abstaining from harsh alcohol-based mouthwashes and toothpastes containing fluoride and antimicrobial ingredients such as triclosan. Fluoride not only harms your microbiome, but also has many other detrimental health effects. In fact, fluoride overexposure from toothpaste, fluoridated water and other sources has led to a virtual epidemic of fluoride damage.
At present, 4 out of 10 adolescents in the U.S. have fluoride-damaged teeth — a condition known as dental fluorosis. Fluoride is also an endocrine disruptor that can affect your bones, brain, thyroid gland, pineal gland and even your blood sugar level.4 Fluoride has also been linked to brain damage and lowered IQ in children.5 While your teeth need certain minerals and nutrients, fluoride is not one of them, and even topical application of fluoride has come under question.6
Brush With Coconut Oil and Baking Soda Twice a Day
Daily tooth brushing is the most basic of oral care. Research suggests the ideal brushing time is two minutes, and the ideal pressure is 150 grams, which is about the weight of an orange. Brushing your teeth too hard and longer than necessary may cause more harm than good, so there’s no reason to brush harder or longer. Ideally, brush twice or three times a day — in the morning, evening and 30 to 60 minutes after your main meal.
The reason why brushing immediately after eating is not recommended is because doing so may actually weaken rather than strengthen your tooth enamel. This counterintuitive finding was revealed in a 2004 study,7 which found that brushing your teeth too soon following eating or drinking, especially acidic foods and drinks such as soda, accelerates dentin erosion. As reported by The New York Times.8
“Acid attacks the teeth, eroding enamel and the layer below it, called dentin. Brushing can accelerate this process, said Dr. Howard R. Gamble, president of the Academy of General Dentistry. ‘With brushing, you could actually push the acid deeper into the enamel and the dentin,’ he said.
In one study, a group of volunteers were followed for three weeks as researchers examined the impact of brushing on their teeth after they drank diet soda. The scientists found an increase in dentin loss when brushing in the 20 minutes after drinking soda. But there was considerably less wear when brushing took place 30 or 60 minutes afterward.”
Try Making Your Own Toothpaste
As for toothpaste, I recommend using nonfluoridated versions for all the reasons mentioned earlier. Also check the ingredient list for other harmful ingredients such as triclosan, sodium lauryl sulfate, propylene glycol, diethanolamine, parabens and microbeads. Your safest bet is make your own toothpaste, which is both simple and inexpensive.
For example, you could simply mix coconut oil and baking soda with a pinch of Himalayan salt. High-quality peppermint essential oilcan be added for flavor and cavity prevention. Start with a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil and baking soda, and add more of one or the other until you get an agreeable consistency. (Slightly firmer consistency tends to be easier to use.) Here’s another, clay-based, recipe by MindBodyGreen:9
- 1/2 cup bentonite clay
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2/3 cup water
- 1/4 cup coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon stevia (optional)
- 1 to 4 drops peppermint essential oil
- Mix the clay and salt in a bowl. Add the water. Mix well.
- Add the rest of ingredients and mix until it forms a paste. Store it in a jar with a lid. Every time you go to use it, spoon some onto your toothbrush. Dampen the paste by putting your brush under some gently running water and brush as usual.
Add Flossing to Your Daily Routine
While most people brush their teeth every day, the practice of flossing is more frequently overlooked. This is unfortunate, as flossing is perhaps even more important than brushing. It removes bacterial precursors of plaque, which eventually turns into hard tartar that cannot be removed by regular brushing or flossing. Tartar is what eventually causes the damage that leads to decay and tooth loss. Most people are aware that flossing is a recommended practice for optimal oral health, yet statistics suggest:10
- 32 percent of U.S. adults over the age of 30 never floss
- 37 percent floss, but not daily
- 30 percent floss on a daily basis
- More women than men never floss
If you’re among those who rarely or never floss, consider adding this practice to your daily routine. One way to improve your odds of making this a daily habit — especially if your excuse is lack of time — is to build up slowly. On the first day, simply floss a single tooth. The next day, do two. On Day Three, floss three teeth, and so on, until you’re in the habit of flossing your entire mouth each day.
Basic Flossing Guidelines
To ensure a proper floss:
- Use a piece of floss that is about 15 to 18 inches long and wrap each end around your index fingers. If you have wider spaces between your teeth, use Super Floss, which is thicker
- Gently slide the floss between your teeth. Avoid snapping the floss down into your gums
- At the gum line, wrap the floss around the side of the tooth in the shape of a “C,” and gently but firmly slide the floss up and down the tooth and side-to-side, making sure you get down into the gum line as well. Make sure you scrub both sides of the adjacent teeth before moving on to the next set
- Repeat on the rest of your teeth, including the back side of your last tooth
If dexterity is an issue, use soft plaque removers instead of floss. Similar to toothpicks, they allow you to clean between your teeth with one hand. If brushing, flossing or using a plaque remover causes your gums to bleed, this is a warning sign that bacteria are at work, causing damage. If left to fester, it can easily cause chronic inflammation elsewhere in your body. The answer is to gently floss and brush more often, until your gums no longer bleed from brushing or flossing. If bleeding persists longer than a week, see a dentist.
Trade Your Mouthwash for Oil Pulling
Next, if you’ve never tried oil pulling with coconut oil, consider trying it now. Recent research11 suggests using mouthwash twice a day may increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes within three years by as much as 55 percent. As reported by British Diabetes News,12 “Scientists at Harvard University were analyzing links between over-the-counter mouthwash and its potential to predispose people to metabolic disorders because of the antibacterial ingredients mouthwash contains.”
More than 1,200 overweight individuals between the ages of 40 and 65 who were at high risk of Type 2 diabetes were included in the study. Seventeen percent of the control group went on to develop Type 2 diabetes over the next three years, whereas 20 percent of those who used mouthwash once a day, and 30 percent of those using mouthwash twice a day developed diabetes. The latter was deemed to be a statistically significant increase, suggesting the connection warrants further examination. According to the authors:
“The indiscriminate routine use of antibacterial mouthwash products may cause more harm than good, in light of recent studies, and further supported by findings from this study … Mouthwash use may also have a detrimental impact on diabetes control and possible complications, as these share some common … pathways with blood pressure and diabetes.”
Oil pulling has been scientifically verified to help eliminate unhealthy biofilm, debris and harmful bacteria from your teeth, much like mouthwash. It basically acts as a safe and natural detergent, without the adverse effects. Some believe oil pulling may have even more extensive benefits to your health. While I cannot support all of those claims, I do have firsthand knowledge of how oil pulling benefits oral health as I have been pulling consistently since 2011.
In the video above I describe how I use oil pulling in my own oral health practices and the benefits you may experience as well. One of the reasons it works so well for cleansing your teeth and gums is because bacteria have fat-soluble membranes that break down with the mechanical action of swishing and pulling the oil through your teeth.13 Coconut oil also has the added advantage of inhibiting Streptococcus mutans, the chief bacteria responsible for cavities.14
Basic Oil Pulling Instructions
Here are the basic instructions for how to do it:
- Measure out about 1 tablespoon of coconut oil. You may find this is too much or not enough, but it’s a good place to start
- Swish the oil around your mouth, using your tongue and cheeks to pull the oil through your teeth. Coconut oil is solid below 76 degrees F (24.4 degrees C) but will quickly liquefy once you start moving it around your mouth. Try to relax your jaw muscles to avoid muscle fatigue
- Although you’re using it like you would a mouthwash, avoid gargling and be careful not to swallow the oil. If you feel the urge to swallow, spit it out and start again
- After several minutes, the oil begins to thicken, becoming milky white. After five to 10 minutes of pulling, spit the oil into your garbage can or outdoors. Spitting it into the sink may cause your drain to clog
Increasing the pH in your mouth after pulling may reduce bacterial growth even further. To do that, mix 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 6 ounces of water and gargle. This will alkalize the pH of your mouth, and since bacteria thrive in an acidic environment, the increased pH will discourage growth.
I personally use 1 teaspoon of potassium bicarbonate to normalize the oral pH and then swallow it to help normalize systemic pH. I like potassium bicarbonate better than sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) as most of us are deficient in potassium, not sodium.
Nutritional Supplements That Support Oral Health
Last but not least, you may also consider taking nutritional supplements that support gum and oral health, such as:
•Vitamin C, which helps improve and preserve periodontal health by improving your body’s defense mechanisms.15
•Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). Bleeding gums is often a sign of CoQ10 deficiency. If you’re an adult, the reduced version of CoQ10, called ubiquinol, tends to be more readily absorbed.
•Vitamin K2. The second highest concentration of vitamin K2 in your body is in your salivary glands, and vitamin K is secreted in saliva. Research16 shows that when vitamin K2 is administered, it reduces bacterial counts in your saliva. Specifically, vitamin K2 reduced the concentration of a bacteria involved in tooth decay, Lactobacillus acidophilus, from a count of 323,000 to 15,000.
This is intriguing, since fermented vegetables, which are loaded with friendly bacteria that improve digestion, alter the flora in your mouth as well. And when made using a special culture, fermented vegetables are an excellent source of vitamin K2. Since the addition of vitamin K2-rich fermented vegetables to my diet, my plaque has decreased by half and is much softer.
•Homeopathic tissue salts such as silica, calcarea fluorica (calcium fluoride), calcium phosphate and calcium carbonate. (Calcium fluoride should not be confused with the chemical formulation of sodium fluoride found in toothpaste, which is toxic and carries a poison warning).
Develop a Comprehensive Oral Health Plan
Caring for your teeth and gums is an essential part of your overall health and wellness. It’s important to address nutrition, oral care and the products you use. To summarize, here’s a five-step plan that can help you improve your oral health this year:
1.Reduce your net carbohydrate intake to meet your insulin level requirement. I suggest you reduce your overall net carbs (total grams of carbohydrates minus your grams of fiber intake) if your fasting insulin level is over 5. Aside from sugar, avoid carbs like beans, legumes and grains such as rice, quinoa and oats, as well as highly processed grain products like bread, pasta, cereal, chips, bagels and fries. These begin digestion in the mouth and impact the health of your teeth the most.
Limit your daily fructose intake to 25 grams or less. Even fructose found in fresh fruit should be limited until you’ve normalized your insulin and leptin levels. If you’re already struggling with Type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance, consider restricting your total fructose to 15 grams per day until your insulin sensitivity has been restored.
Focus on eating a diet of fresh, whole foods, including grass fed meats and organic and fermented vegetables. This helps ensure you get plenty of minerals for strong bones and teeth. If needed, consider adding one or more nutritional supplements to support your oral health.
2.Brush twice or three times a day, 30 to 60 minutes after drinking and/or eating.
3.Use nonfluoridated toothpaste, or make your own using natural ingredients such as coconut oil, baking soda and essential oils. There is no compelling reason to expose yourself to dangerous chemicals when other natural alternatives are easily available, highly effective and cost efficient.
5.Pull with coconut oil once a day, ideally first thing in the morning, for five to 10 minutes to reduce bacterial growth, strengthen your teeth, reduce bad breath and lower your risk of gum disease.
- 1 Immunology Letters December 2014; 162(2): 22-38
- 2 Odontology 2006 Sep; 94(1): 10-21
- 3 Business Insider February 14, 2014
- 4 Fluoride Action Network, National Research Council Findings 2006
- 5 Fluoride Action Network, Fluoride and the Brain
- 6 Langmuir 2010 Dec 21;26(24):18750-9
- 7 Caries Research 2004 Jan-Feb;38(1):62-6
- 8 New York Times May 21, 2012
- 9 MindBodyGreen March 16, 2015
- 10 CNN June 8, 2016
- 11 Nitric Oxide December 1, 2017; 71: 14-20
- 12 Diabetes.co.uk November 23, 2017
- 13 Journal Of Ayurveda And Integrative Medicine 2011 Apr-Jun; 2(2): 64–68
- 14 J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent. 2008 Mar;26(1):12-7
- 15 Journal of the Canadian Dental Association 1989 Sep;55(9):705-7
- 16 Weston A Price Foundation, Vitamin K2 and Dental Health