Guess what the following diseases have in common: Stroke. Rheumatoid arthritis. Alzheimer’s. Type 2 diabetes. Obesity. Asthma. Hay fever. COPD. Colorectal, pancreatic, lung, kidney and oral cancers. Leukemia. Inflammatory bowel disease. Cardiovascular disease. Erectile dysfunction. Osteoporosis.
Inflammation is involved in all of them. But recent research has revealed an even more specific connection between each of these illnesses, and that is gum disease. Chronic oral disease, which may persist undetected for years, is a major source of low-grade inflammation in the entire body.
Inflammation is a defensive biological reaction to a harmful agent. The pain, redness and swelling that follow a bee sting are signs of acute inflammation, of the body protecting itself to remove irritants, damaged cells or pathogens, so that the healing process can begin. Chronic inflammation is different; it’s caused by a low-intensity irritant that persists, causing long-term inflammation. The irritant can be the sugar and chemicals in processed foods, the stress of your life, a sedentary lifestyle, or working out too hard. When your body is in an inflamed state, it is out of balance. Energy is constantly expended in an attempt to get rid of, or adjust to, the presence of a perceived irritant. When chronically inflamed, your body is on alert to defend itself. Being in this state for extended periods interferes with the normal function of your body’s various systems and wears you down.
Half of American adults have periodontal (aka gum) disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A survey by Harris Interactive revealed that only 60 percent of those affected have any knowledge of gum disease, even though it’s the leading cause of adult tooth loss. The Harris researchers also found that 39 percent of Americans don’t visit a dentist regularly, so they may not even know they have a problem. But during the past 10 years, there has been a significant shift in perspective on the connection between oral and systemic health. Research has been shining a light on the significant impact that diseases of the mouth have on the rest of the body.
Everything we knew about the causes and origins of disease has been turned upside down by the new field of microbionics, the emerging science of the microbiome, the communities of microorganisms that inhabit your body. An unbalanced microbial colony in your mouth can hijack the immune system and create health-destroying inflammation with major systemic impact.
My book, The Mouth–Body Connection, focuses on the oral microbiome, which both affects and reflects your overall health, and offers a plan with four important ways to restore this essential ecology of the human body into a state of balance, known as homeostasis:
1. An Oral Detox
This means removing chemicals that can have a toxic effect on your teeth and gums. The antimicrobial movement in dental care is literally overkill. Many conventional oral-care products wipe out your oral microbiome. After all, companies that produce personal-care products spend millions of dollars to sell their products with the promise that they “kill germs on contact.” Take a look at toxic ingredients in toothpaste and mouthwash. Even “natural” toothpastes can have questionable ingredients like xylitol, and essential oils with antimicrobial effects. Fluoride, once the “sacred cow” of preventative dentistry, has become highly controversial with a wave of new research in which it has been shown to affect the thyroid, cause weight gain, and lower IQ in children, among other negative effects.
An “A-List Diet”—alkalizing, antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory—creates a balanced environment that supports a healthy microbiome. Simple carbohydrates are a disaster for mouth health, turning the mouth and body acidic, a state that promotes disease. Eat whole natural foods, organic fresh fruits and vegetable. Soak nuts and edible seeds to sprout. Make homemade bone broths, brew herbal teas, and be sure to consume lots of healthy oils, such as olive and avocado. I also recommend taking supplements to fight inflammation, including omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins C, D3 and K2, and probiotic supplements.
3. Healthy Exercise
Studies have shown that the oral microbiomes of sedentary people are often out of balance. Though exercise can quiet the stress response, too much exercise can cause inflammation. Working out for hours in the gym doing cardio and strength training is not necessary on my plan. (In fact, it is not a good idea, if you want a healthy mouth.) It’s all about intensity. Only 15 minutes twice a week of high-intensity resistance training will do the trick, and can be done anywhere. There are no excuses: anyone can find 30 minutes a week to reap the health benefits of regular exercise.
4. Stress Management
You also have to have some stress management techniques up your sleeve. Stress has a destructive effect on the entire microbial community of your body. I can tell by examining patients’ mouths how stressed-out they are. Canker sores are a dead giveaway. Stress can also lead to gum disease, teeth grinding and clenching teeth, which is called bruxism. Habitual grinding rubs off enamel, which makes your teeth more sensitive. The same action can affect the joints and muscles in the jaws and neck. Utilize a variety of relaxation techniques and find the right one that works for you. Mindfulness Meditation is simple and easy and promotes more communication among parts of your brain that process stress-related reactions and other regions related to focus and calm. Yoga helps eliminate the effects of stress and fatigue, as well as reducing proinflammatory cytokines circulating in your bloodstream.
Dr. Gerry Curatola is the author of The Mouth–Body Connection, which outlines the 28‑Day Curatola Care Program to help restore balance in the body. Rejuvenation Health, 56 The Circle, East Hampton,