In this podcast, Dr. Nammy Patel explains the link between oral and whole body health. She talks about how poor oral hygiene can lead to all kinds of very serious illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and dementia.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. And I’m here today with Dr. Nammy Patel, founder of Green Dentistry in San Francisco, California, helping patients recognize the vital connection between dental health and whole body health. And author of the best-selling books, Age With Style: Guide to a Youthful Smile and Healthy Living, and Total Wellness: Understanding the Link Between Your Teeth and Your Health.
Today, our topic is the impact of oral health on overall health, how dental problems can affect your body. Welcome, Dr. Nammy.
Dr. Nammy Patel: Thank you for having me, John.
Health Problems Linked to Poor Dental Hygiene
John: Sure. Dr. Nammy, how does oral health impact your overall health, and what are some of the most common health problems that can be caused or exacerbated by poor dental hygiene?
Dr. Nammy: Well, poor dental hygiene is huge when it comes to the entire body, mainly because we’re swallowing five gallons of bacteria on a regular basis. So when we’re swallowing these five gallons of bacteria, we’re taking them into our stomach and our gut, which is our immune system. So it’s super important that we have healthy oral hygiene.
And people with poor oral hygiene, we see a lot of things actually that come out. The most common ones that we see are tumors. If somebody has a tumor and has poor oral hygiene, their tumor will advance faster, and that would be really sad to see, especially the head and neck and pancreas and esophagus as well.
And then we also see patients with poor oral hygiene with high risk for heart attacks because we now know there’s specific strains of bacteria that will cause heart attacks as well as diabetes. We actually know that when there is a lot of bacteria that’s in the mouth that’s going into the belly, your body’s going to be so busy fighting bacteria, that’s going to wear out the insulin resistance and you’re going to end up with diabetes. The next one is also arthritis. We see that patients with poor oral hygiene actually have specific bacteria that actually go into the joints, and then they cause inflammation in that area, and that will cause arthritis.
Now, the other thing that we see with poor oral hygiene is dementia and Alzheimer’s, because certain bacterias are so small that they cross through the blood-brain barrier and they go into, as your body tries to fight them off, it actually damages brain tissue. And so that’s how you end up with Alzheimer’s and things like that. As well as atopic pregnancy. It’s really complicated because some of these bugs can really create havoc in your body.
So poor oral hygiene is horrible to have. And it’s not that you need to have gum disease to have that. It really just means if you’re not getting rid of these bacteria on a regular basis, you’re causing an accumulation of. Think about your kitchen. Would you cook in your kitchen? It’s an industrial kitchen. You cook in it like four or five times daily. Imagine if you didn’t clean it, what happens to it after day one, after day two, after day three. You’ll notice that a lot of cockroaches kind of come in. And that’s the idea behind gum disease. Basically, the bugs come in if they don’t get cleaned out properly.
How Oral Hygiene Affects Gut Health
John: And all this bacteria that you’re swallowing each day, that’s just from your saliva in your mouth that you’re swallowing, right? So if you have these bad bacteria in your mouth, you’re swallowing that all day long, and then that’s getting down into your gut.
Dr. Nammy: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
John: So how can patients recognize the signs of oral health problems that might be impacting their overall health, and what steps can they take to help prevent that?
Dr. Nammy: The first sign that somebody can recognize is bleeding gums. If you notice bleeding gums, that means the blood lining or the tissue is so thin in your gums and the bacteria have invaded your blood vessels at that point, and that’s the reason why you have bleeding. And then anytime there is an infection, what happens with your veins and arteries is they become really thin. And hence when you floss, you bleed, or when you’re brushing, you bleed.
That’s the first thing that patients tend to recognize or notice. The other thing you notice is also bad breath. If you notice that there’s bad breath that you have, that is going to be another cue that you’ve got something going on and you’ve got these bad bugs in your mouth that need your attention right away.
How Holistic Dental Care Improves Outcomes
John: And how do dental professionals approach patient care from a holistic perspective? How can this approach help to improve patient outcomes and experiences?
Dr. Nammy: So as a holistic practitioner, what I like to always do is I like to test and I like to retest. So for example, if I have a patient that comes in, says, “Hey, I have bleeding gums,” I would take an oral sample and really look at the types of bacteria that are inside the gums, because I want to know what specifically strains are there because some bacteria are actually resistant to cleaning. So doing a cleaning isn’t going to just do the job. I may have to use different modalities. I may have to use lasers. I may have to do a lot of different other things in order to eradicate these specific strains of bacteria.
And it’s really interesting because sometimes the mouth will look really healthy, and yet there’s bacteria existence because the patient is a mouth breather. And when you’re mouth breathing, you will make certain species of bacteria overgrow. And you may not see bleeding, which is really interesting, but these bacteria are actually the ones that are linked to heart disease, which is really interesting as well.
Controlling Chronic Health Conditions
John: And what about patients with chronic health conditions like diabetes and heart disease? How can they help to protect their oral health and prevent complications related to those conditions?
Dr. Nammy: The most important, especially for diabetes, there is no way the diabetes is going to come under control until the gum disease is. So it’s going to be super important that the gums are routinely cleaned, and it’s going to be super important that the mouth stays really clean. So coming in for cleanings every two to three months.
We used to say three, now we’re actually lowering it down to two months to make sure that the bacteria is cleaned out and that the immune system isn’t overwhelmed. With heart attacks, we know that some of these bacteria that go into the bloodstream as your body is trying to fight them off, they actually bind with cholesterol. So if you’ve got heart disease, super important again to make sure that these bacteria are cleaned out and tested, making sure that you have the lowest amount possible, and continuous monitoring is really what I would recommend.
John: All right. Well, that’s really great information, Dr. Nammy. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Dr. Nammy: My pleasure.
John: And for more information about Green Dentistry, visit the website at sfgreendentist.com. Or call 415-433-0119.